As the ‘Change UK – The Independent Group’ saga continues to unfold, it no longer seems entirely outside the realms of possibility that Chuka Umunna got it going by wishing on a monkey’s paw.
Wish for a new party to emerge out of nowhere and shake (if not yet break) the mould of British politics? Step forward, Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. Attempt to correct by wishing for Remain voters to break from Labour and start rallying to an explicitly pro-Brexit force? Lo, several hundred new Green and Liberal Democrat councillors.
Of course, in real life there is nothing so exculpatory as black magic underlying CUK-TIG’s growing catalogue of missteps, which appear instead to be rooted in an unfortunate combination of lofty ambition and inattention to detail.
Being a broad-church, establishment party whose general principles are largely understood to speak for themselves is a privilege our system only affords to Labour and the Conservatives. Smaller parties need to build a distinct identity, find themselves a niche, and then exploit that ruthlessly.
CUK-TIG have signally failed to do this. Their original identity – ex-Labour MPs who would no longer tolerate their old party’s descent into the antisemitic gutter – was muddied by the admission of three Conservative defectors, one of whom (Anna Soubry) remains an unabashed advocate of the Coalition’s austerity agenda. This meant their only obvious unifying theme was opposition to Brexit, but because this is not a long-term foundation for a party (as we pointed out two years ago) they have refused to lean into that either.
The result is a party comprised mostly of Labour defectors which apparently intends its MEPs to sit with the centre-right EPP in the European Parliament and whose most eye-catching intervention on domestic policy was a call for the reintroduction of conscription.
And all of that is before you get to the fine-detail failures such as the failure to choose an eye-catching colour, the ever-changing, vacuously corporate branding, losing control of their Twitter handle, angering their activists by picking minor celebrities as candidates and failing to provide basic campaign infrastructure…
…getting Have I Got News for You cancelled…
Unsurprisingly, the net result of all this is that not only have they failed to attract any new defectors, but one of the two MEPs appears to have defected back out again. Meanwhile the Remain wave, such as it is, has passed them by. History may not repeat itself, but there’s a David Owen-esque rhyme to the fact that CUK-TIG gambled on breaking the mould by playing hardball with the Liberal Democrats, and have now squandered what might well prove to have been their best shot at a favourable merger.
The original tale of the monkey’s paw ends with the hapless wisher banishing the thing he’d summoned back into the ground. If current polling is any indication, the electorate might yet play that role for CUK-TIG in the upcoming European elections.