The Post Truth Post’s Biggish Reads presents the political exclusive no one else could secure, or in their right mind be bothered with.
Out on the campaign trail for re-election to the seat of Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, former Conservative minister Anna Soubry has provided a characteristically frank account of the problems that beset the establishment of the centre-ground party in early 2019, which subsequently splintered within a few months.
“At the outset, there was always the intention to work with other parties within the Commons,” says Ms Soubry.
“One incident in the early days that scuppered this noble goal was when the Liberal Democrat MPs shunned our invite to a slap-up meal at Nandos.
“Gavin Shuker had claimed he was capable of organising the so-called ‘shit-hot night out’ just a day or so after we’d turned our backs on the two main parties.”
To refresh readers' memories, Change UK (initially the Independent Group, before settling on making their coalition a formal alliance by establishing a new political party) comprised eight former Labour MPs and three former Conservatives: aka The Magnificent Seven, The Three Amigos and motivational New Age’ palm technique’ guru, Joan Ryan (ex-Labour and a Virgo).
Nandos serves reasonably priced Portuguese tapas-style cuisine and was the agreed upon venue in early efforts to encourage rapport amongst the eleven. Gary Fishlove, manager of Nando’s Camberwell, was happy to let the Independent group use the big “kids party” table at the back before membership dropped to a standard sized booth.
“Heidi Allen suggested some kind of craft away day where you design and make your own teddy bear, but I rightly thought ‘bollocks to that’, and then Gavin turned up with a coupon for Nandos anyway,” Soubry chuckled.
“The Lib Dems Nandos snub was a portent of things to come, however. They got in touch with us on the day saying they would have to cancel as it clashed with their big ‘Indoor League’ night.
“Vince Cable rocked up to my Westminster office with a set of dominoes tucked under his arm saying it was ‘no go’.
“So, the political opportunity of a lifetime went begging because Tim Farron was hellbent on beating Jo Swinson at shove ha’penny after putting in literally hours of practice, apparently.
“Subsequent misunderstandings about our intentions and our pitch towards voters as a fellow Remain party then led to any meaningful Lib Dem association being curtailed.”
According to Soubry, things went further awry when the then Lib Dem leader Vince Cable began behaving in an aggressive manner around Westminster, regularly exclaiming “I’m the centre-ground Daddy. Keep your tanks off my patch of lawn!” at various Independent / Change UK MPs.
A rueful Soubry claims, “That intimidated a lot of people. It put the kibosh on further defections from the two main parties. Centre-ground coordination and consolidation was not on the cards, unfortunately.”
Factionalism between the eleven was also growing after an acrimonious game of ‘paper, scissors, stone’ was undertaken to determine who would hold the post of interim leader.
Soubry concedes, “with the benefit of hindsight it would’ve been a good idea to print off the rules from an online source and secure the services of an impartial observer to uphold them rigorously.”
A poor showing in the European parliamentary elections and the accommodation and subsequent media promotion of prospective MEP “Rachel ‘Jonah’ Johnson”, who “turned up tearfully on somebody’s doorstep begging to be involved”, spelt the end of the road for the original eleven.
After Shamima Begum quit to return to Syria a smaller incarnation of the party was launched under a new moniker: ‘Soubry’s Independent Changers’.
“The name change reflects the fact that I’m now in charge, but it also highlights our shared appreciation for Only Fools and Horses. As the remaining four that have stayed on with me are all ex-Labour it might be the only thing left we have in common." concedes Soubry.
“Certain MPs who disaffiliated gradually drifted towards joining the Lib Dems. I don’t bear too many grudges about that and Chuka Umunna has been on an incredible political journey.
“Some great statesman – like Churchill – ‘cross the floor’, whereas Chuka has taken a more crab-like approach to defecting, scuttling sideways across the parliamentary benches.
“The ambitions we had for Change UK in its original form now seem like a crazy dream, to the extent that I often joke it’s like I woke up one day from a deep slumber to find Bobby Ewing starko bollocko in the bathroom shower!”