European elections: Remain parties need just 'one more vote' than Brexiteers for success, says Change UK leader

Heidi Allen admits she 'sweats' over the worry that the new party is splitting the Remain vote

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 21 May 2019 19:48
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Remain parties securing “one more vote” than the combined forces of Ukip and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party would represent “success” in the European elections, the interim leader of Change UK Heidi Allen has said.

Ms Allen told The Independent that she “sweats” over the worry that the new party is splitting the Remain vote in the 23 May elections to the European parliament.

But she said she was convinced that Change UK was playing its role to ensure that as many opponents of Brexit turn out as possible to vote on Thursday, including those who reject the Liberal Democrats because of their history of coalition with Conservatives.

Proposals for a joint Remain ticket for the Euro elections came to nothing, with Change blaming electoral rules and Lib Dems suggesting that the new party – formed by 11 defecting Labour and Tory MPs in February – had failed to cooperate.

While Sir Vince Cable’s party has since surged to top both Conservatives and Labour in some polls, Change is struggling to top 5 per cent in the Euro-election running.

Despite the poor numbers, Ms Allen insisted that “the die isn’t cast”.

While accepting the party had no prospect of taking seats around the country, she said it still had “an extremely good chance” of winning MEPs in the southeast region and London, where the journalist Gavin Esler is standing.

She admitted the spectre of the split vote haunts her, despite the unusual voting system used in Euro elections in mainland Britain, which gives smaller parties a better chance of representation.

“I’ll be honest, I sweat about this a lot, I think about this an awful lot, with the polls,” she said.

“Every day I’m glued to them, thinking ‘Am I splitting the remain vote?’

“I came into politics to put the national interest first. That is the only thing I care about. I don’t care if I lose my job, I don’t care if a party is or isn’t successful, I care about the national interest.”

But she said he had met Remain supporters who would not vote Lib Dem because of their record in coalition.

“It is about MEP seats, but it’s also about what is the Remain vote versus Brexit,” she said.

“If we can even in a modest way offer a home for some more Remain voters that otherwise might not come out to vote because they don’t want to vote Green or Lib Dem, that is worthwhile and that’s us putting our shoulder behind the wheel in terms of pushing that Remain vote.”

European elections are a chance to demand a People's Vote, says Change UK's Heidi Allen

Asked what result would represent a successful election for her, she replied: “Just one more vote (for Remain parties) than Brexit and Ukip put together – that would do for me. That would be success.”

Change UK candidate Rachel Johnson was reported to have described the party as a “sinking ship” following criticisms of its logo, its name and its presentation.

Ms Allen accepted: “There are absolutely things that have gone wrong. Some are just genuine mistakes, because – guess what? – we’re all human and we make mistakes.

“Some of them are a symptom of us running before we can walk. The big parties run on £13m to £15m a year. We have started from zero so it’s not surprising that there have been errors.”

But she insisted that some criticisms had been “blown out of all proportion”, dismissing jibes at the party’s four-bar logo as “not major”. And she denied suggestions that the party name had been chosen because its acronym ChUK was close to the first name of chief spokesman Chuka Umunna, describing it as “not at deliberate”.

“Does any of this take away from the fact that we want to do things differently, that we want to break the mould and change the way Westminster operates?” she asked.

“Do I think we will get seats up and down the country? No. But do I think we will have drawn a line in the sand in terms of enthusing the general public that it might be possible to have a different kind of party that operates differently. That’s for me the really exciting thing because that is what will live another day beyond these elections.”

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