'Theresa May Is Unfit To Be PM', Change UK Leader Heidi Allen Says

In an interview with HuffPost UK, Allen reveals her diary is like "a feral cat".

The familiar sound of rowing MPs pours out of the Commons chamber as staunch Remainer Heidi Allen briskly strides out into the grandeur of parliament’s central lobby.

Checking her phone, the interim leader of Britain’s new pro-second referendum party declines reporters’ calls for comment on the latest Brexit crisis, and tells me: “My diary is like a feral cat.”

Everyone in Westminster bemoans the havoc Brexit is playing with their schedule, but the 44-year-old ex-Tory’s complaint has the ring of truth.

The South Cambridgeshire MP is trying to turn her fledging party - a project which grew from the Independent Group (TIG) group of 11 MPs which split from the Tories and Labour in February - into a national fighting force capable of capturing the centre ground they claim the main parties has vacated.

Allen describes her former leader Theresa May as “unfit to be PM”.

Asked why, she replies: “Because she has repeatedly put the Tory Party first. The national interest, our economy and security in Ireland and Northern Ireland has not, in my opinion, been the top of her list, and that’s unforgivable for a prime minister to take that position.”

She adds: “I think both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are equally unfit to be PM.”

Forced to hastily applying to the Electoral Commission for status as a party when it became clear May’s European Parliament elections were a realistic prospect, Change UK will be the new kid on the block.

It has been claimed they will struggle to get enough people, or defectors from other parties, willing to stand.

Not true, says Allen, who co-leads the party with its spokesman, ex-Labour MP Chuka Umunna. They officially opened applications on Thursday, but the inboxes of all 11 MPs are already swamped with offers, she says.

“We are sitting on a tidal wave,” she says. “I am sitting on hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails, and every one of us is. I suspect there will be a couple of thousand applications that we are looking at.

“They are from all over the country, every background, professional, academic, public sector/private sector, young, old, male, female, EU citizens.

“We have a full range of people applying to stand for us and it is really exciting.”

There will be no detailed manifesto from Change UK, however.

The poll is about one thing and one thing alone for Allen: stopping Brexit.

“This will be a proxy referendum and our position will be unequivocally and unashamedly for a people’s vote and ultimately remain,” Allen insists.

Allen admits a majority for pro-referendum parties will not legally change the UK’s position, but adds “it will change the conversation here in Westminster” and intensify demands for a re-run of the referendu.

Theresa May in Brussels this week
Theresa May in Brussels this week
PA Wire/PA Images

Asked what other policies the party would have, she answers they are “all about Remain”.

She says: “We believe that the country is financially better off, economically more prosperous, that there are more opportunities for young people, for science, for academia in the EU. We believe that the EU is better for the NHS.

“These elections will be about us fighting for Remain.”

But will potential Change UK MEPs try to change the EU? All parties will face pressure to recognise that the 2016 referendum underlined the UK has a strong Eurosceptic streak.

But on pledges for EU reform, Allen says: “We are not making policy on that at this stage.”

Allen expects to have enough candidates to stand in every region, and pledges never to ask a Change UK candidate to stand aside to ensure victory for a pro-second referendum candidate from another party in, say, Scotland where the SNP dominate.

“Assuming we get permission from the Electoral Commission, we will be putting up a full slate of candidates up in the name of Change UK,” she says, adding: “No deals and no pacts.”

The Independent Group of MPs
The Independent Group of MPs
PA Wire/PA Images

Speculation is rife that Change UK is attempting to recruit more from their rivals.

Allen hopes more current MPs will join her, and recently named ex-Tory ministers Justine Greening, Guto Bebb, Sam Gyimah and Philip Lee as on her “wish list”.

She will not be drawn on whether she is in discussions with Labour MPs.

“It’s not my job to out people,” she replies.

Allen entered politics after a career which spanned graduating with an astrophysics degree, corporate positions with Exxon Mobile and Royal Mail, and being managing director of her family’s manufacturing business for eight years.

It was watching the 2011 Tottenham riots unfold which sparked an interest in politics, before which she was a “normal person” who “avoided Question Time like the plague”.

“I found myself shocked by what I was seeing on the TV every night, and I just thought your country needs you to get off your sofa and do something,” she says.

Allen lost her faith in the ruling Conservative Party, which she joined when David Cameron was leader, after it began tearing itself apart over Brexit while Universal Credit impoverished families, she says.

While the charge of having a thin policy agenda may also be levelled at Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party, Change UK does have plans for a wider policy agenda.

A manifesto for a general election will be decided as part of a national tour of the UK, not dissimilar to Emmanuel Macron’s “grand debate” which saw the French President visit town halls across France in response to the yellow vests protests.

Change UK will talk to citizens, business leaders, academics and anyone else willing to share a view as part of its “change politics project”.

Until then, the party will refuse questions on housing, the welfare state or austerity.

“We are starting with a blank piece of paper in every policy area, and we will build policy from evidence,” she said. “We are literally starting again.”

“The task is gigantic,” she says. “It is David and Goliath stuff. But I feel like I am doing my job.

“We are 11 MPs who are going to work our socks off. And we might fail. We’re not stupid. We get that. But we have decided to put all our chips in the middle of the table and will try our hardest to change how this country works.”

She adds: “We would be out talking to people now if we didn’t have all the Brexit votes in parliament.”

And with that, Allen’s phone lights up, signalling she must get moving once again.


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