IT’S a small world. Serial party switcher Chuka Umunna said today he will stand for the Liberal Democrats in the Cities of London and Westminster parliamentary constituency, instead of the Streatham seat he currently represennts in the Commons. This means he will not only be taking on Mark Field, the Conservative MP who caused shock at the way he frogmarched a climate protester out of a black tie dinner in June, but also Zack Polanski.
Mr Polanski’s own journey has taken him from singing Ain’t No Mountain High Enough on the stage at the Lib Dem conference stage and a by-election candidacy in Somers Town and elsewhere, to the Green Party, where he is a London Assembly candidate for next year’s City Hall elections and was already selected to stand in Mr Field’s constituency.
While people will shout chicken run, particularly as the Lib Dems topped the polls in Cities and Westminster at the European elections and his prospects of winning again in Streatham were always bleak, in leave-or-remain terms Mr Umunna must establish himself as the best choice for pro-EU voters wanting to brake Brexit. Mr Polanski would of course would want that billing for himself and, as we’ve seen and the Lib Dems know, is a pretty relentless character.
Then there are the cold figures from the last election for Mr Umunna to analyse: former Islington councillor Bridget Fox moved the Lib Dems on a few percentages but it was Labour who were driving the train trying to cause a shock by unseating Mr Field; the MP has won the seat at four consecutive elections. Labour went from being 10,000 votes behind the Tories in 2015 to just 4,000 votes behind in 2017 and were treating this as a ‘one more heave’ seat when Steven Saxby won a competitive candidate selection. Mr Field is now clearly in their beatable range.
And that’s why you can hear some who support a rebel alliance against Brexiteers at a new general election asking when why Mr Umunna – a former Labour leadership contender who hinted for months and months about breaking away from the party before eventually emerging as one of the front faces of the damp squibbing Change UK… and then pretty swiftly signing up for the Liberal Democrats instead *breathe* – has not chosen to run to a constituency which is a straight Tory vs Lib Dem showdown.
Rather than one in which he must beat both the Conservatives and his old party.
To overcome the latter, he would presumably have to convert some Labour supporters living in central London or at least make sure those lent votes at the Euros will be lent again. Of all Labour’s defectors and critics, however, it’s not controversial to say that some party members hold a special, almost uncontrolled and certainly unflinching contempt for Mr Umunna and the way he has played the game over these last three years. He is, in short, the last person some of them would want to give ground to.
Whether tradtional Labour voters share the same vehemence as locked in party members and campaigners, we shall see. The contest and result here, if we are to have an election, is likely to be far more interesting than the neighbouring Camden constutuencies, though.