So, Change UK (formerly, The Independent Group) have formalised themselves as a party, have entered the political fray and are planning to stand in the European elections that we had voted, most definitely, not to stand in again. I look forward to some sanctimonious bore insisting that not standing in the European elections wasn’t on the ballot paper thus we can entirely legitimately participate in the European elections despite a vote to leave the European Union. I shall leave you to decide whether a vote to leave the EU implicitly suggested we weren’t going to stand in any further EU elections.
My post here is really about Change UK. I hadn’t intended to write anything about them, but even the sympathetic reporting (in, for example, the Guardian) rather underlines why the party adds nothing to politics and highlights some of the very problems with the EU itself. Let’s just look at some of the ways they are fighting to maintain the status quo and how they, accidentally, highlight some of the issues with the EU.
First, we look at the candidates they have listed for the European elections. Chief among them are a journalist from a family of politicians, Rachel Johnson, and a former BBC correspondent, Gavin Esler. Most other candidates are former politicians and barristers. The idea that those who are most firmly embedded in the establishment are those who are seeking a change in UK politics is as laughable as it sounds.
Second, Rachel Johnson proudly announced, ‘I’m sure that Boris understands why this is not a vote against Boris. This is a vote for change. We need to move the dial. People need to have a say.’ She conveniently forgets that the people did have a say. They said they wanted to leave the EU. This rather lets the cat out of the bag regarding the change that the party are seeking. They have no intention of changing the status quo and only wish to see the result of the last referendum changed. So, it seems, the only change they wish to see is to the result of a referendum that would instigate change. To put it another way, they wish to maintain British politics as it is with the modification that parliament need not answer, on any level, to the people.
Third, at the launch, the Guardian report:
Referring to the nickname for the group’s members and supporters, [Heidi] Allen called herself a proud “Tigger mum” and, with a nod to Star Wars, claimed: “This is no rebel alliance; this is the home of the remain alliance.”
Clearly, then, there is a sense in which the party recognise that some might construe their aims as a tad rebellious. Calling it the ‘remain alliance’ doesn’t do much to resolve the problem that the aims of the party are to rebel against the result of the democratically held referendum.
Fourth, it seems that the same old politics are still at play. Again, the Guardian report:
The party ran into trouble only hours after the launch, when it announced that one of its potential candidates, Ali Sadjady, had stood down having reflected on an “inappropriate tweet” posted in 2017. It had been reported that he had expressed support for Brexit because, he said, “70% of the pickpockets caught on the [London Underground] are Romanian”.
Quite where to begin with this? There is much we could say but I will limit myself to one observation. Why does a man who expressed support for Brexit find himself seeking candidacy for a party whose sole raison d’être is to overturn the result of the referendum? Those who know how politics works will recognise the answer. Many politicians are driven less by principle and more by the evident pursuit of power.
The posturing within both Conservative and Labour parties revolved around a desire to oust leaders with whom the respective parliamentary parties were largely unhappy. Change UK owes its very existence to those exasperated enough with seeking to remove their respective leaders within their party of choice that they jumped ship. It is little wonder, then, that they are now finding those who had no chance of election in the main parties seeking to use them as the vehicle for their own personal political advancement. Such has it always been and Change UK appear to offer no real change on that front at all.
Fifth, the party – in seeking support from the public – highlight one of the very problems with the way the EU operates (which they exist to keep us in). They Guardian report:
Change UK called on voters disillusioned with the chaos of Brexit and the politics of Farage and Ukip to vote for the party to send a strong message that a change in direction is wanted.
It said the individual stances of Labour or Tory MEPs who claimed to support a people’s vote were irrelevant because it was the party, not the individual, on the ballot paper. Change UK claimed every Labour or Tory MEP candidate was a sponsor of Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May’s position on Brexit.
Tony Benn answers this issue powerfully in the video below (key point beginning c. 3:00)
One of the key reasons Brexiteers on the left – such as Tony Benn and among whom I count myself – are so vociferously critical of the EU, and adamant that we want to leave, is because of these democratic issues.
The irony here is that Change UK appeal to the very party list system that so many consider anti-democratic in a bid to win democratic support to achieve their aim of undermining the first democratic referendum. They directly ask people to vote for them because the undemocratic party list system renders the views of the individual candidate entirely redundant. And they are quite right on that point whilst, with a shocking sleight of hand, trying to convince us to support them in a bid to keep us in such an undemocratic system.
So what change are Change UK bringing to UK politics? It would seem absolutely none at all. The same people who have been involved in British politics and journalism will be standing in the European election. They will be standing on a ticket of overturning the referendum result and insisting that, despite what the people have already voted to do, making sure we ignore them and remain come what may. Beyond Brexit, they have no policies and are made up of exactly the same centrists who have dominated British politics for the last three decades and with whom many have grown weary.
Never have a group made so much of their desire to see change whilst doing all they can to make sure nothing changes at all. Perhaps ‘change’ is French: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.