When I left the Conservatives in February, it was because I could see the party had drifted to the right and was prioritising its own self preservation over the future of our country. How could it be that the party always relied upon for fiscal responsibility and the economy, was now advocating a no deal Brexit!?
It was because of that significant change of approach that I decided to leave the Conservative party and stand instead as an Independent.
At that time, I and the 10 other colleagues who left Labour and the Conservative parties to sit as the Independent group, were incredibly well received by the public. At last, a group of MPs who were prepared to challenge the status quo and build a better kind of politics!
Early polling results gave us the confidence to formalise into a party structure, named “Change UK” in order to be able to fight the European elections at the end of May. However, what nobody could have anticipated was how the local elections in the intermediate period would transform the landscape. The Liberal Democrats did extremely well and immediately exceeded the early support we had enjoyed in the polls.
As the interim leader of Change UK, I felt strongly that we should be advising the public to vote tactically to enable the maximum number of remain MEPs to be elected. Our polling had fallen dramatically, whilst the Brexit party was storming ahead, so I believed our focus and support should shift to other Remain parties who were now faring better than us in the polls.
If you did not see it at the time, please see my Channel 4 News interview on Wednesday 22nd May, where I outlined how uncomfortable I was that I had been unable to convince the majority of MPs in Change UK to back my preferred approach.
Instead, Change UK maintained its position to achieve as many votes for itself as possible, rather than collaborate with other parties. I felt collaboration would have achieved a better outcome.
Now the European elections are over, I remain unwavering in my strong belief that the country must always come first. As such, I have stepped down from Change UK and will return to sit once again as an Independent. Five other colleagues have joined me – Sarah Wollaston, Luciana Berger, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker and Chuka Umunna.
There are two principal reasons as to why I have done this.
As I have already described, I do not believe I can serve my constituents and country well if I put party interests ahead of theirs.
Secondly, the political landscape remains very volatile. In the coming weeks and months I can easily envisage MPs leave the Conservative party because they cannot tolerate a new Prime Minister who advocates a hard Brexit or no deal Brexit. Equally, there are Labour colleagues who will no longer tolerate Jeremy Corbyn‘s inability to fight as an opposition leader should.
Recognising that it is very difficult for MPs to leave their parties and immediately join other ones, I believe my role will be to help convene a safe neutral space in the centre ground of Parliament and offer a home for those MPs. It will allow us to work alongside the Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP, Change UK and Plaid Cymru in the national interest, ensuring we do not crash out of the EU with no deal.
As an Independent MP with a reputation for cross party working and prioritising the national interest over party allegiance, I feel strongly that I will be able to help act as a convener.
It is my strong belief that this is what the country needs right now.
Here’s an interview from ITV’s “Peston” show where I talk about the decision: