Lib Dems could win up to 200 seats at next election, Chuka Umunna claims

‘If there is a 5 per cent swing towards the Liberal Democrats through the course of the campaign, 200 seats are in contention’

Chuka Umunna launches attack on Corbyn

Chuka Umunna has claimed the Liberal Democrats could win up to 200 seats at the next general election just moments after he made his debut speech to party members.

Mr Umunna, the Lib Dems’ foreign affairs spokesperson, also made clear the party would support an election once an extension to the Brexit deadline has been secured, insisting: “We are not shy”.

The bold claim from the ex-Labour MP came as he used part of his first keynote speech to Lib Dem members to launch a scathing attack on Jeremy Corbyn, who he claimed was “relaxed” with the prospect of the UK leaving the EU.

Speaking to journalists following his speech, Mr Umunna said he hoped the party would “get more than 40 seats at a general election”.

He continued: “We know from the internal polling that if we move from the position we are in and say there is a 1.5-2 per cent swing, we can get up to 100 seats.

“If there is a 5 per cent swing towards the Liberal Democrats through the course of the campaign, 200 seats are in contention.

“But who knows what will happen? We are not complacent. We are not drunk on our success, we want to continue to expand the bandwidth, draw people into the party.”

He added the party’s biggest “wild card” was its leader Jo Swinson, who he claimed has so far been massively underestimated and had had huge success in the short time she has been leading the party.

Elaborating on his decision not to stand again in his south London seat of Streatham, Mr Umunna also told The Independent: “I’m not going to beat around the bush, I did not relish the prospect of having to fight a vile and really unpleasant campaign against the new Streatham Labour Party.”

“The old Streatham Labour Party that I joined has gone. Of the 2,500 Labour Party members in Streatham, less than 500 were the members who selected me. I didn’t really relish having to put myself through that, my family through that and my staff through that.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson with European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt

“I felt I had a duty of care to them as well as looking out for my own wellbeing, and that was a big factor in why I chose not to stand in Streatham.”

Instead, Mr Umunna will contest the next election in the Cities of London and Westminster seat – currently held by the Conservatives – if a vote takes place this autumn.

During his conference speech, Mr Umunna rejected Labour’s claim to be on the side of liberal values of liberty, equality and community, saying that neither Jeremy Corbyn nor Boris Johnson are fit to lead the country.

He accused Mr Corbyn of being an “apologist” for Russia’s Vladimir Putin and lauding authoritarian regimes in Iran and Venezuela while seeking to abolish Nato.

“What unites both Johnson and Corbyn is the fact that both want to leave the EU, this biggest champion of liberalism in our neighbourhood,” he will say

Umunna at the Liberal Democrats conference

“Neither is fit to lead this country. It’s time for a change and someone I know can provide that leadership – Jo Swinson.”

In a swipe at Mr Johnson’s suggestion that he might not obey anti-no-deal Brexit legislation and Tory jibes at judges, Mr Umunna will say that Lib Dems demand that governments “respect the rule of law with an independent judiciary ... free from abuse and attack by the executive”.

“This is the Britain we know and love, and Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and the other peddlers of hate and division had better know that this is what we will fight for at the coming election,” he added.

“It is our job to make sure this country’s heartbeat is liberal and internationalist, not nationalist, populist and authoritarian. It is the new fault line in British politics and we know where we stand.”

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