Change UK (CUK) and the Liberal Democrats could form an electoral pact so as to avoid splitting the anti-Brexit in the next Westminster election.
“The Remain forces in this country need to work even more closely together than we have managed to achieve up to this point between now and the general election,” said Chuka Umunna, a former Labour Blairite and CUK’s main spokesman, in comments to BBC Radio 4.
CUK had hoped to crystalise the Remain vote in the European Parliament elections which were held in Britain on Thursday, much as Nigel Farage sought to do for the Leave vote with his Brexit Party.
Votes will not be counted until Sunday night and media regulations prevent any exit polls from being reported — as other EU member-states are still casting their ballots — but preliminary polls suggested CUK has not been particularly successful, despite massively outspending the other parties on social media.
This is perhaps due to a surprise upturn in the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats.
The Lib Dems, long a left-liberal third force in British politics, last tasted relevance in 2010, when the general election resulted in a hung parliament and they formed a coalition government with David Cameron’s nominally “centre-right” Conservative Party.
This led to their near-obliteration in the 2015 general election, attributed largely to then-leader Nick Clegg — now a powerful Facebook executive — backing a proposal to triple university tuition fees despite having paraded around the country with a giant, signed, blow-up pledge to vote against any increase ahead of the 2010 election.
Successor Tim Farron’s attempt to rebrand the Lib Dems as the one party committed to overturning the people’s vote to Leave the European Union in 2016 failed to bear fruit in the 2017 snap election, leading many to conclude they were an irretrievably tainted brand.
However, they defied expectations by managing a mini-surge in the English local elections this year, and polled well — if far behind Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party — ahead of the EU electons under current leader Vince Cable’s and his crass “Bollocks to Brexit” slogan, leaving CUK with no void to fill in the political landscape.
Chuka Umunna said he thought it “would be sensible” if Change UK and the Liberal Democrats agreed not to run candidates against one another in the next Westminster election, which could possibly mean a CUK-LD alliance along the same lines as the old SDP-Liberal alliance which gave birth to the Liberal Democrats in the 1980s.
“I personally don’t think we should be competing at a general election and, of course, whilst we had a system of proportional representation at the European elections, it’s going to be first past the post in a general election, so we have got to get our ducks in a row and work out what configuration is appropriate for 2019 and beyond,” he said.
CUK leader Heidi Allen, a former Tory, has revealed she almost quit the party over a disagreement over whether or not it should have endorsed the Lib Dems outside London and the south-east of England, saying she “would have absolutely advised tactical voting” if she had been able to make an executive decision on the matter.