Thursday 18 April 2019

Whither the One Per Centrists?

If the Tories veer off to the right after Theresa May, we know there's going to be a bunch of voters (and elites) left high and dry. Looking at by-election results from the last year and more recently, we see the Tories are more likely to lose seats to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens than Labour. There are voters on the centre right who are put off by May and the interminable hard Brexit saga and open to something that isn't a Corbyn-led Labour Party. Given the pro-EU but otherwise-everything-is-A-okay positioning of our friends The Independent Group/Change UK, on paper they are well-positioned to pitch to this space and realign establishment politics. How then are they doing?

Polling is a bit all over the place, but consistently low. As folks get excited about the latest YouGov putting Nigel Farage's Brexit Party in the lead for the Euro elections (now backed by George Galloway, no less), CHUKa are knocking about six-to-eight per cent mark. Funnily, the last Survation poll (the one pollster worth rating IMO) put them on a 1%, leading some wags (© Juliet Jacques) to dub them the 'one per centrists'. Nice. So the immediate answer to the question is ... they don't appear to be doing too well.

The biggest obstacle for any new party is capturing and sustaining momentum. If you're locked out of the Westminster system, you effectively have to generate your own. One way is by recruiting, giving activists tangible goals, keeping them busy and working them hard. Your achievements might have little consequence in wider politics, but for the active members an impression of getting somewhere can be sustained and become self-justifying. The fact of one's own hyper-activism is proof of momentum. See how paper sales work on the far left, for instance. CHUKa, however, are an unashamedly elite project, not a campaigning organisation. As such, as a gathering of parliamentarians their momentum depends utterly on the column inches and the broadcast minutes they can capture. Sadly for them, things here haven't gone entirely to plan. Since Chuka and his mates removed themselves from Labour, the media interest in them has dropped. As previously persistent awkwards (and inveterate leakers) on Brexit-related matters, their niche in the media largely hinged on being anti-Corbyn Labour MPs. The opportunities this afforded them are now no longer available. Diddums.

There are other things a new party can do. You can announce stuff, like policies. And in early March, Chuka shared some ideas. But did anyone pay any attention beyond the political anoraki? No. Or you can try and lure some big names over to your side. For instance, last Sunday in her interview on Sophy Ridge, Anna Soubry said she was "very excited" by some of the names who've applied to stand for CHUKa at the European elections. Who might these be? Well, Nick Boles has pointedly refused to join them, which would have been helpful from a headline grabbing angle. And despite promises of x number of other Labour MPs on the brink, they are, well, forever on the brink. Still, they do have something to shout about. Former health secretary Stephen Dorrell has dumped the Tories for the tinge on the fringe, and is joined there by another former Tory MP, Neil Carmichael. Ex-Labour MP for High Peak Tom Levitt has also signed up, and there's been a hint - only a hint - Ken Clarke himself is considering if the post-May right turn is too egregious. Now that would be big news and prove decisive in hoovering up the informed centre right pro-EU vote, but until then they have to make do with consolations like this, a couple of former Tory MEPs joining, and Renew - one of the many centrist grouplets to have mushroomed this last year - coming on board.

Yet this merited nary a mention beyond the specially interested. For a party of big I-ams, this has got to smart. However, they are at least properly registered as a political party now. No more hiding those big donations back when you were a private company. But this was overshadowed by their faux pas with the Electoral Commission. As readers probably know, their logo was rejected and so will not appear on the European election ballot papers because it was "misleading". The logo, said to be a TIG next to the hashtag #Change certainly sounds back-of-a-fag-packet amateurish. If you are registered as Change UK, why on earth would you want to be known as TIG to voters? Everything between now and polling day is supposed to be about building up a distinctive and recognisable political identity - one reason why they rejected getting in to bed with the LibDems. Change UK is a bad enough name, but if that's your party's name that's what you should be hammering - especially when no one apart from nerds know what 'TIG' stands for. You'd have thought all their LoveFilm money and focus grouping would have told them that.

You've got to ask the question that if a party can't get a coherent logo sorted, especially one that is well-resourced and is fronted by supposed front-rank politicians, then it would appear Change UK hasn't got much of a future considering the tough political challenges out there and the hard job the party has of establishing themselves. Should we be at all surprised? Here we have a bunch of MPs who've previously had everything handed to them on a plate. Having to organise anything or struggle politically for something, if they have ever done it, is but a distant memory. To them politics is elite politics. If they want something to get done, it is done - because there was a party machine that previously accommodated them. Now they're learning about politics the hard way, and they're proving totally crap at it.


PlebJames said...

The deserve to crash and burn.
Where would their centrist vision gets us were it to be put into operation? We know already - it gets us to here, and no further.

Anonymous said...

Since they were created with the intention of stopping Corbyn getting elected by splitting the Labour vote, it would be greatly amusing if they were instead successful at splitting the Conservative vote by attracting pro-European Tory voters, and letting Labour in.

Boffy said...

The Tories have lost votes to UKIP/Farage. Its unlikely they will lose votes to Liberals and centrists, given Brexit. The UKIP/Farage vote is soft. A sharp right turn by May, or her replacement by Gove/Bojo/Raab will see it flood back.

The fragility of Labour's vote is shown by the need for the ridiculous Guardian article, suitably dismantled by Sraid Marx, trying to persuade Remainers they have nothing to lose from backing Labour, whereas, as he points out, they have everything to lose.

That is why Labour haemorrhaged votes to the Remain supporting parties in Newport that doubled and trebled their vote share, whilst Labour's vote share dropped by around 30%. The only hope Labour has is that the Remainer parties are themselves so sectarian that they fail to come together in any kind of alliance, which the last week seems to indicate.

The biggest gainers appear to be the Greens, but the Liberals have also been given a way back that a year ago would have seemed impossible were it not for Corbyn's crazy pro-Brexit stance.

At the moment, the biggest gainers from Corbyn's reactionary nationalism will be reaction itself. So it has always been with the strategy of Stalinism.