Chuka’s missed a trick. He should have set up a London party instead

by Kevin Meagher

‘I love it when a plan comes together,’ a grinning George Peppard used to say in The A-Team when the gang had yet again outfoxed the bad guys and won the day.

Not a phrase that’s used much over at Change UK, I suspect. Things aren’t exactly going swimmingly for the intrepid band of Labour and Tory escapees. They’re finding out the hard way just how limited the market is for soggy centrism and that the tribal nature of British politics is, well, tribal.

They’re encountering the cognitive dissonance of the British public too. Everyone says they want a new kind of politics, but the problem, for anyone who takes this claim seriously, is that hardly anyone ever votes for it. Perhaps the bigger snag, though, is that no-one much likes defectors. Least of all the voters, judging by the latest polls.

Change UK is already scuttled. Latest polling has them on 2 per cent. Break the mould? They haven’t even dented it.

Whatever anyone thinks of the SDP’s Gang of Four, they were household names, seasoned Cabinet Ministers who had run the country. If it wasn’t for first-past-the-post, they would have become a permanent presence in British politics, coming within a whisker of Labour’s share of the vote in 1983.

Of course, that same system that has so successfully stymied new entrants for so long is still in place. Which is why Change UK needed to do well in the European elections, where proportional representation gave them a chance of making a breakthrough.

Sadly (for them) that isn’t going to happen.

To be fair to Chuka Umunna and his moon-sized ego, his ambition was clearly to establish a new, national political party, subsuming the Lib Dems and drawing in enough like minds from the Labour and Tory ranks to build enough heft and momentum to shatter our existing model.

He hasn’t been able to achieve anything close to that because he’s just not a compelling enough figure and doesn’t stand for anything distinctive. Fluent, yes, but an empty vessel. All sizzle and no substance, as Barack Obama once noted of David Cameron.

Actually, there’s not much sizzle either.

As The Guardian’s John Crace put it the other day: ‘Change UK is dying before it even learned to walk. Its MPs know it. Its candidates know it. The public knows it.’

Their lead candidate in the South-West, the journalist Rachel Johnson, has publicly disowned the fledgling party, saying it has a ‘terrible name.’

She added: ‘If I were running it [sic] we would have one leader and a different name and we would have done a deal with all the other Remain parties. Then we would be able to give the Brexit Party a fight.’

On which point, she may well be right. Strategically, things are not going to plan. ChUK’s first calculation – that the Lib Dems were willing to throw in their lot – has been shattered by their better-than-expected local election performance. They are clearly the beneficiaries of protest votes from antsy Labour and Conservative Remainers.

This wasn’t in Chuka’s script. He was supposed to mop-up here, but the Lib Dems have a renewed spring in the step. Rather than serve themselves up as a burnt offering to Change UK, the Lib Dems have devoured the ChUKs.

What the Honourable Member for Streatham should have done is set up a London party instead. Rather than trying to break the system, he should have tried to augment it and build a powerbase in the Capital. The ground is potentially fertile. The defining ideology of British political and media class is that London’s special. It might have responded to Chuka’s glibness, as well as his social and economic liberalism.

He could have focused on nabbing a seat or two in the euros, rather than spreading himself thinly across the country where Change UK has no organisational traction. He could then have taken a tilt against Sadiq Khan in 2020. With the Mayor’s pretty scant record, he might have had a chance of beating him.

It’s certainly hard but not impossible to start a new national party. Yet Nigel Farage has just established one from scratch, raising £2.5 million in small donations, picking up 100,000 members and is set to come first in the European elections, winning, on current figures, more votes than the Labour and Conservative parties combined.

This makes Chuka’s failure even starker. It’s not that the system is hopelessly rigged against new entrants, it’s just that no-one particularly warms to a bunch of self-serving retreads who, through their poor reading of the public mood and splitting the Remainer vote, will assist Nigel Farage in chalking up an historic victory on Thursday.

Kevin Meagher is the associate editor of Uncut

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7 Responses to “Chuka’s missed a trick. He should have set up a London party instead”

  1. steve says:

    The Blairites have repeatedly told us that elections can only be won by a party of the centre.

    If that was true the Brexit Party would not be heading for victory in the EU elections. And Kevin wouldn’t have been able to write: “Change UK is already scuttled.”

    Blairite Remainers have probably done enough to prevent Corbyn winning the next general election but in destroying Corbyn’s prospects they’ve also destroyed the LP’s prospects.

    Consequently, there will be no safe-seat, career opportunities for the Blairites. They sowed the wind, they will reap the whirlwind.

  2. Tafia says:

    Wonder where they (CHUK) will head for next. A lot opf them should have no problem getting work stacking shelves in Tescos but the ‘big names’ (Umanna, Soubry, Berger) are goosed. For them it’s grovel on their belly to see if the Lib Dems or the Greens will have, or leave politics for good.

    There was a debate on Sky News the week before last about the rise of the Brexit Party and CHUK being arse. One panelist – a seasoned and highly respected political commentator whose name escapes me summed it up perfectly when he stated that anyone in Parliament who thought messing Brexit about wouldn’t lead to this is a halfwit and shouldn’t be in politics. It was the most obvious thing to happen in politics in the last 200 years. He then went on to say despite Brexit Party not appearing to do so well in Westminster voting intention polls (they are around 20% in those), that will change and change rapidly once the europeans were out of the way and they will rise quite rapidly. That both Labour and Tory need to understand something – if we haven’t left the EU by then, it will be impossible to even form a Coalition with a majority at the next General Election unless they are included.

  3. Alf says:

    It’s not just Chuka. The whole project was doomed from the start. There’s just no market for outdated New Labour politics these days – and there hasn’t been since the 2008 crash. The voters want more than just suits, grins, and bouffant hair-dos; they want substance.

    Chuka and Chris Lesley have been exposed as ineffectual fools. The lesson here is that the CHUKups and Labour’s right-wing dinosaurs just aren’t much good at politics. The Blairites face oblivion.

  4. John P Reid says:

    If the momentum /Blairite view of the working class who saw their communities change via new housing or Culturally through demographics so the type of crime changes as what is accepted or to be expected in a area and the lack of housing and the speed of change saw
    The working class desert labour to apathy anger to express their views outside the ballot box or Active abstention
    Then labour should be greatful the working class core is going to the brexit party, to just hold the working class in contempt because they’ve deserved labour
    Hanging in to the blairite view only needs middle class votes to win and if the working class new what was best for them they’d voted labour, but as they don’t it’s their loss if they’re too stupid to know what was the right way to vote, the middle class arent the ones suffering under austerity and the momentum mot thinking its better to sit around Fabian meetings talking about how great they are to have university degrees and good jobs , they’re not the ones seeing a breakdown in communities that’s resulting in crime in the up

  5. leslie48 says:

    Keven I thought your article which I only just saw was deeply disappointing.

    Labour are still deeply divided – Corbynism is still rampant, shadow cabinet still ‘unknown’ unknowns, Corbyn deeply unpopular in swing seats in South East/Midlands, polling against Tories still horrific, Momentum still dominant and ineffectual Long Bailey etc set tio to be next leader. The European polling looks to be bad.

    ChangeUK was born out of extremes both Hard Left & Hard Right and those who founded the party had guts- to paint these people in totally negative and Farage like terms is weak – Luciana Berger, Soubry etc were shocked by their parties! They are genuine politicians as is Chuka – fighting your own party is not what you come into politics for.

    Yes they made mistakes, their branding is weak, literature was same old, not working with Lib Dem in Euros, but the Lib Dem upsurge was a tactical response to the Brexit nightmare. Voting Change UK at this stage was too risky.

    Do we need a new Centre-Left party? —I think so and with Boris Johnson, Farage and Corbyn never more so. New Labour achieved massive progressive changes for toddlers, kids, students, workers, women, patients, poor families, low waged, nurses, teachers, medics, business, enterprise, pensioners, Scots, Welsh and Irish etc., To demonise that as Blairism as some do here is pathetic. 40% of trhe voters are crying out for a centrist/Centre Left approach.

  6. John P Reid says:

    Three weeks later

    This hasn’t aged well

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