- Chuka Umunna says he’ll be a Liberal Democrat for the rest of his life.
- Umunna, who has been in three different parties this calendar year, quit new centrist party Change UK to join the Lib Dems last week.
- In an interview with Business Insider this week, Umunna revealed that he realised he ought to join the Lib Dems during the “latter stages” of the European elections.
- Umunna said he had expected more “suspicion, hesitation, and questioning of motives” from Lib Dem members.
- His public admission that he was wrong to launch Change UK made a positive “impression” on Lib Dem members, he insisted.
LONDON – Chuka Umunna says he will be a member of the Liberal Democrats “until the day I die” after joining the party last week.
The former Shadow Business Secretary – who has been in three different parties this calendar year – told Business Insider that he had received a “lovely warm welcome” from Lib Dem members after quitting the new centrist party Change UK to become the twelfth Lib Dem Member of Parliament on Friday.
The MP for Streatham said he had expected more “suspicion, hesitation, and questioning of motives” from Lib Dem members when he made the resurgent party his third political party in an “up and down” 2019.
Umunna quit the Labour Party in February to launch a new, anti-Brexit party in the centre of British politics – launched as Change UK but now known as The Independent Group for Change.
However, the party of eleven former Conservative and Labour MPs fumbled its launch and subsequently failed to win a seat at last month’s European Parliament elections, while the Lib Dems surged to finish second place.
Umunna said Lib Dem members appreciated his admission that he made mistakes on his turbulent path to joining the Lib Dems, primarily his realisation that the British public did not want a new party after all.
“This could have all gone very differently,” Umunna said in an interview with Business Insider.
“What I’ve been told is that because I acknowledged the fact I’ve been on a journey, and conceded that I had made a mistake on where the politically homeless progressive voter wanted to go, it has made an impression on people.
“This is it now – I’m not going to any other party – this is the party I’ll be a member of until the day I die.”
Umunna said he realised that he should join the Lib Dems “in the latter stages of the European elections.”
“There was not a huge desire for a new party in the centre-ground of British politics but there was huge desire for the existing players in the progressive, liberal centre ground to work far more closely together,” he told Business Insider.
“Both on the street and also just among friends who aren’t involved in politics at all, I kept on being asked ‘why don’t you just join the Lib Dems? Everything I hear from them I hear from you.’
“‘The values are exactly the same and there isn’t a cigarette paper between your policies.’
“I couldn’t deny that fact – it was staring me starkly in the face.”
Umunna said one of the reasons for six MPs including him quitting Change UK this month, was that they believed the new party should not immediately stand candidates in elections, as it “needed to learn to walk before it could run.”
“Trying to stand in a national election while at the same time building a party infrastructure was impossible,” he said.
Umunna insisted there were no hard feelings between himself and the five MPs who stayed in the party now known as The Independent Group for Change.
“Our politics are the same, the goals are the same. We just have a different perception of how to make them real.”
However, he urged the 600,000 people who backed the party in the European elections to switch to the Lib Dems, as there is “only room for one party of the centre ground in our First Past The Post System.”
Umunna joined the Lib Dems too late to vote in the contest to choose the party’s new leader.
He refused to be drawn on who he prefers out of candidates Jo Swinson and Ed Davey, telling Business Insider: “It would be quite bizarre of me to join and then a few days later start issuing statements or who people should support.”
“I’m a newcomer to the party. I’ve got to earn the trust of fellow members.
“They’re both great candidates with great experience. I am deliberately not going to endorse anybody.”
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He also refused to shed any light on where he expects to stand at the next general election.
Umunna represents Streatham in south London but has been linked to Twickenham, which is held by outgoing leader Sir Vince Cable, and Remain-voting seats outside London.
“I am a Streatham lad born and bred. It has shaped me and my politics. So it will never leave me in that sense.
“I’m a member like anyone else and have to go through the processes.
“I don’t want to tread on toes having only joined the party a few days ago.”