Chuka Umunna has claimed he suffered from a “politically abusive relationship” with the Labour party and predicted that his new party — the Liberal Democrats — was on course to record its best ever general election result.
Mr Umunna abandoned Labour and vacated his former Labour seat in Streatham, and now claims he can win the Tory stronghold of the Cities of London and Westminster for the Lib Dems, fighting on a platform to reverse Brexit.
The former Labour frontbencher, once touted as a future party leader, said he could not face the prospect of “vile” abuse from his old party if he contested Streatham. “The word ‘moderate’ is spat out the mouths of many on the left of the party,” he said.
“The Labour party is a new party and it will never go back to what it was. To be a social democrat in the Labour party in the last three or four years was to be the subject of abuse, vilification, aggression,” he said. “You have been in a politically abusive relationship with your party.”
Now the Lib Dem’s foreign affairs spokesman, Mr Umunna will be a star turn at the party’s conference in Bournemouth this weekend, alongside four other MPs who have defected from Labour or the Conservatives.
The pro-EU centrist party, now led by Jo Swinson, made big gains in local and European elections this summer and hopes to capitalise on its unequivocal anti-Brexit stance in the coming general election.
The party is promising to revoke the Article 50 exit process without bothering with a second referendum if Brexit is not resolved by the time of the election. Mr Umunna told the Financial Times that the Lib Dems would have “a sufficient electoral mandate”.
“If we got a majority government and are in a position to implement it, we would revoke Article 50,” he said. “There’s no ambiguity in our position.”
Such an outcome remains extremely remote, in spite of the Lib Dems’ recent revival and Mr Umunna’s claim that the party was “in contention in about 200 seats”. It currently polls at around 18-20 per cent.
Although an outright election victory is highly unlikely, the party’s strength in Remain areas poses a significant threat to the Conservatives, particularly in London, the south and the south west of England.
Mr Umunna is a bit hazy about his new party’s previous best performance in a general election — the 62 seats won by Charles Kennedy in 2005 — but is confident it can be beaten. “We are going into this snap election seeking a majority,” said the 40-year-old MP, who joined the independent Change party before finally arriving at his new political home in June.
“We are seeing a realignment in British politics.”
In spite of the Lib Dems’ searing experience of coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives — which saw the party blamed for the government’s failings — Mr Umunna said: “We are not going to rule out entering into coalition governments in the future.”
But he added that a coalition with either of the two big parties could not happen “as they are currently configured” or without a commitment to hold a second referendum.
He was also clear that in the event of a hung parliament the Lib Dems would not be accessories to putting Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street. He pointed out that he and two other former Labour MPs who joined the Lib Dems — Luciana Berger and Angela Smith — had switched sides because Mr Corbyn was not opposing Brexit and posed a threat to “the economic and national security of our country”.
“There needs be absolutely no concern that we would put Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10,” he said. “We left the Labour party precisely because we could not countenance that happening.”
Mr Umunna believes the Lib Dems can sweep past Labour and incumbent Tory MP Mark Field in the strongly pro-Remain seat of the Cities of London and Westminster, in spite of the party finishing third there at the 2017 election.
A former corporate employment lawyer, who worked in the City, he said the constituency was “a global symbol for open, liberal, internationalist values”.
If the Tories were to lose the seat spanning the Square Mile and the Houses of Parliament, it would be a highly visible sign of the party’s transformation into a Brexit party, with its sights set on winning Labour seats in working class areas of the north.
Boris Johnson’s purge of 21 anti-no deal Tory MPs was “the expulsion of the Disraeli One Nation party,” Mr Umunna claimed. “It is now a rightwing nationalist party.”
Additional reporting by Daniel Harrison
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