The ultimate splitters have split up: let’s count the ways it all went wrong
After just three months, the party that was supposed to be Britain’s answer to Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance (formerly known as En Marche!) has split after taking just 3.4% of the vote in the EU elections. Six of Change UK’s MPs, including the interim leader Heidi Allen and spokesperson Chuka Umunna, have left the party to sit as independents, with (highly plausible) rumours that they will go on to join the Lib Dems.
It would be tempting to point out how this is a bit like Brian McFadden splitting from his own solo career after leaving Westlife. Or take cheap shots about how they’re so crap that they’ve rehabilitated the Lib Dems, like a political version of a frat-boy wingman deliberately making themselves look rubbish in order to let Vince Cable look “bang-worthy”. Or mock the fact that the new party is now called – and I’m not even remotely kidding, Continuity Change UK – like a kids’ rock band thinking it’s cool to name themselves Hot Ice.
But this split isn’t anything to be happy or smug about. It’s especially not a time for gloating from other parties. Laughing at Change UK from a position of being affiliated with another party at the moment is like a trouserless clown laughing at a second clown because their trousers fell down. Nobody is coming out of this looking dignified.
Mocking a party that’s already a fragment for fragmenting again isn’t going to unfuck the dire political situation we’re in.
And the party that had more names than it did months, funny though that objectively is, did start from a position of principle. Whether you agree with it or not, their decision to leave both parties was a bold move, and you have to respect them at least a tiny bit for that.
But it did sort of go downhill from there. For people who thought they were going to save us from Brexit, these months must have been like watching a version of Star Wars where Luke shows up to fight and finally defeat Vader only to watch him slip, accidentally shit himself, and then run away from the fight desperately trying mop up the mess with a spare Ewok while blurting out embarrassing secrets.
Let’s take a look at some of their highlights and over-analyse where they might have gone wrong.
The new non-racist party? Yep, knocked that out of the park
Fair play, they said they were going to do it differently, and they did. Most parties standing on the platform of being anti-racist would probably leave it a few weeks before doing a racism. This bunch of spritely young go-getters knocked that it of the park on day one, when Angela Smith appeared to refer to people from BAME backgrounds as having a “funny tinge” just two hours after the new, non-racist party officially launched.
Later on, several candidates for the EU elections had to step down after it turned out one of them tweeted: “Black women scare me. I put this down to be [sic] chased through Amsterdam by a crazy black whore”, and another wrote “70% of the pickpockets caught on the [London Underground] are Romanian”.
Granted, in the era of Johnson and Trump, this is positively governmental.
They won the cringeworthy competition, hands down (no, really)
With strong competition, the most cringeworthy moment came when Joan Ryan MP asked a rally of adults to look at their hands.
“You’re really good, you’re doing that ever so well,” she told them, complimenting the way, to reiterate, a crowd of grown adults were looking at their own hands. “That’s the best I’ve seen it done, brilliant.”
She then went on to tell the audience: “That’s it, it’s there, that’s the answer to this. [The future is] in your hands.”
Five centrists in the audience are believed to have cringed to death.
Brand recognition? What’s wrong with a barcode, anyway?
What every new party needs is brand recognition. Labour has the rose, Tories have the tree. Ukip has a lion that looks like it’s overcome with worry that the more xenophobic Ukip members will find out that as a lion he’s not as “from Kent”, as he implied on his CV.
Change UK commissioned designers and eventually thought: “Yep, what we need is a big barcode. When people think of CHUK I want them subconsciously thinking of how much of a ball-ache it is to scan stuff in Tesco.”
It’s all in the name. Or names. Hold on, what are they called?
When it comes to names, quantity has never been a problem for Change UK, originally called The Independent Group (TIG), aka the Tiggers.
Keen to avoid the accusation that the whole thing was an ego project, it quickly got changed to Change UK or CHUK, which by wild coincidence is the first four-fifths of Chuka Umuna’s first name.
Problems not over, the petition site Change.org sought legal guidance, believing that the name was too similar to its own and infringed on its brand. This was sort of backed up a bit when Anna Soubry accidentally (and passionately) announced “we call ourselves change.org” when she announced the new name to the House of Commons.
The surviving members of the split have saved the situation by renaming themselves Continuity Change UK (CCUK), clearly wanting their first act as a renewed political party to be a bitter fight for a name with a charity, say Crohn’s and Colitis UK who also go by the acronym of CCUK.
Naming take-home: keep a handle on it
Due to constant name changes, they had trouble keeping up with their own admin. When they changed their Twitter handle, their old handle got hijacked by a pro-Brexit group that tweeted out messages like “I’d like to apologise to the British people for the absolute fucking state of me and my views” under pictures of Soubry’s face.
And the ultimate no-no: telling people to vote for a different party
On a big list of political no-nos, telling people to vote for a party other than your own is up there with (allegedly) recording a pee tape in Russia, but that’s what Change UK did during the first election it ever fought.
One MP spent the last week in the run-up to the EU elections spreading a message to the effect of “Hi, I’m Heidi Allen of the Independent Group or Change UK, or whatever the shit we’re calling ourselves these days. Anyway, as I was saying, please vote Lib Dem.”
Though it was probably the right move for the remain cause during the EU elections, campaigning for a different party isn’t great for party cohesion and was one of the reasons that seems to have caused the split.
Unfortunately, analysis shows that if they hadn’t existed at all, maybe remain parties would have got another crucial seat. Their main problem, if they want to achieve the goal of remaining in the EU, may just be one of existing in the first place – rather than skipping to the part where they regenerate into Lib Dems.
• James Felton is a TV and radio comedy writer