Change UK Defectors Not Guaranteed Selection As Lib Dem MPs, Warns Ed Davey

Lib Dem leadership candidate says Chuka Umunna and others need to earn "trust" of party membership.

Former Change UK MPs are not guaranteed to be selected as Lib Dem candidates for the next election if they defect, Ed Davey has warned.

In an interview with HuffPost UK, the Lib Dem leadership candidate said Chuka Umunna, Heidi Allen and others would be “welcome” to join his party.

But he made clear they would have to work hard to win over of local party activists who had spent years fighting them.

“Every election we have to get my local party members to reselect me,” Davey said.

“Anyone coming over would go through that process. They would need to win the trust of the local party members.”

Davey said it would be “within the rules” for Umunna to run for Lib Dem leader in “future” if he joined. “Chuka seems to be liberal to me,” he said.

But he suggested at the moment party members would likely prefer someone who had shown “commitment to the cause”.

“People coming from outside the party, freshly to the party, members might think ‘ok well it’s nice to have you and you’re great and all the rest of it, but we do want people who’ve been with us on the journey,’” Davey said.

“The party membership, to vote for people for leader, they need to feel these people in the DNA.”

Chuka Umunna and ex-Change UK MP Anna Soubry.
Chuka Umunna and ex-Change UK MP Anna Soubry.
PA Wire/PA Images

Over the weekend it was reported Umunna, the MP for Streatham, was considering joining the Lib Dems ahead of the next election.

He was one of six MPs who quit Change UK following the pro-Remain party’s disappointing showing at the European elections.

Speaking to HuffPost UK before the reports emerged, Davey identified Umunna, Luciana Berger, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen as those he believed could find a home in the Lib Dems.

The Kingston and Surbiton MP said: “The Lib Dems are probably more than any other party a family and people need to build those relationships.

“We are a welcoming outward looking party. But I think they will need to acclimatise themselves and build those ties.”

He pointed to Allen who had been “working against” Lib Dems in her South Cambridgeshire seat when she was a Conservative.

“She’ll need to mend bridges and they will need to talk to her and get to know each other and develop that trust.

“It’s not about my relationship with Heidi. I think that would be perfect. But if she wants to stand as the Lib Dem MP in South Cambridgeshire she’s got to get the Lib Dems in South Cambridgeshire behind her.

“I was probably the most cautious of the Lib Dem MPs about Change UK for the simple reason that I didn’t know who they were. When you look at the eleven of them, I look at their history, they all seem to be quite different,” he said

“Nice people. I am not having a go at any of them individually. But politics is about values and views and you take the 11 and look at their values and views and they seem a bit different. “

He added: “Ultimately it’s up to them. We are not going to say here are 100 Lib Dem policies let’s just check you against them.

“But if they broadly agree with our liberal agenda we are a relatively broad church and liberalism can span from Labour liberals to Tory liberals.

Davey is standing against Jo Swinson in the race to succeed Vince Cable as party leader.

The Lib Dems have never had a female leader. Davey said if elected he would “not rest” until “at least” half of the party’s MPs were women.

“I want to make sure equality and diversity continues and develops in our party as much has anybody,” he said.

“And the fact we have a very able woman in this race shows it’s no barrier.

“But I think ultimately the members will want to see the person whose got the most merits for the job, who has got the vision for the job and is the best person for the job.”

He added: “I think people who are worried about that agenda can be pretty comfortable with me.”

Davey was energy secretary in the Coalition government and is basing his leadership campaign around green issues. “We have got to be about more than just stop Brexit,” he said.

But Brexit still dominates the agenda. To this end, he has called for a temporary government of national unity to break the deadlock in the Commons.

Under his plan, a government made up of cross-party MPs would work together to pass legislation for a second referendum.

He said it is not his “first choice” but it could be the only way to overcome the impasse as well as stop a no-deal exit . “A general election doesn’t solve this,” he said.

Davey said the prime minister of any national unity government would “probably have to come from the Conservative benches” but “failing that” from Labour.

“That would be logical the vast majority of MPs would be from those parties,” he said.

“I wouldn’t see Jeremy Corbyn or the Corbynistas as part of this. Not Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister for sure. I couldn’t support him. I can’t trust him on this issue,” he added.

Davey said he would “never say never” to taking the Lib Dems into another Coalition government, but added it would be “simply not credible” for the party to work with either Corbyn or a “Brexiteer Tory”.

Off the back of the surge in support for the Lib Dems at the local elections and the European elections, Davey said voters do “forgive” political parties.

“The disaster of the Poll Tax and Black Wednesday for the Tories. The disaster of the Iraq war [for Labour]. People do move on.

“I also think that in comparison to the incompetent, divided embarrassment of a government we have now, people might look back on the Coalition and think that wasn’t that bad.”

Davey said following the 2015 election wipeout which saw the party lose almost all of its MPs it got “cautious”.

“When the tide is coming your way you need to ride it. We’d been used for quite a few years the tide going out,” he said.

He said the party was now hoovering up pro-Remain “lifelong” Conservative voters as well as pro-Remain Labour voters.

“They are not shifting only once,” he said. “We are seeing some of that Tory support come to us and it’s going to stick with us without a doubt.”

Davey said the Lib Dem leadership election was important because “the next leader could be a future prime minister”.

He added: “I don’t see why we should have a cap on our ambitions. Why? Tell me why?”


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