Last general election I founded Renew, by standing as an independent candidate in Battersea. My hope for the new party was that moderate MPs would split into a new centre party and oppose Brexit. In three weeks of campaigning I beat the Greens and achieved and won 1,234 votes – a higher vote count than the Lib Dems managed in a third of London seats.
I believed that a break-up of our two paralysed parties of government can overcome our utterly dysfunctional politics: ERG extremists have delivered a Brexit crisis so grave that some of our biggest manufacturers are pulling out. Anti-semitism has made greater in-roads into the state than in any developed country since the holocaust. Now courageous MPs have split from the big two parties to form Change UK – and Renew has joined them. What seemed like a forlorn hope for some is now gaining traction with some of the biggest political figures in the land.
Before the election I was a foreign office anti-terrorist officer. I was proud to serve my country against ISIS, but I felt there was little point being a politically neutral civil servant over the long run when our political masters were leading us to chaos. Some years previously I had quit my job in a hedge fund to launch Grow Movement, a charity which serves 50,000 people in the poorest communities on earth. This gave me some confidence that standing up for what you believe works out, so I resigned again. Along the way I learnt some painful lessons about what works and what doesn’t around new political structures.
It’s a complete myth that people from outside of politics are electorally attractive alone. After some initial traction, Renew almost disintegrated and got hammered in the recent Newport West by-election with only 879 votes and was beaten by every significant party. Yes, people outside of politics can help build the brand, but what matters are political heavyweights who can dominate the media.
I know of only two outside the main parties: Nigel Farage and Tony Blair. Nigel’s already doing his bit. Tony needs to get his application in for a Change UK MEP candidate fast. If Tony Blair and Nigel Farage faced off in the Euros, it could whip up such a media firestorm that it would leave Labour and the Conservatives in ashes.
Our politics are paralysed because today’s political dividing line of populist versus globalist, leave versus remain, runs across the major parties, not between them. If both Change UK and the Brexit parties broke through in the European elections, they could break this logjam and restart effective representation across clear boundaries again. Nigel might even redeem himself for some of the chaos he’s caused.
Far more important than new faces is a policy platform that answers the criticisms that centrists don’t stand for anything, and promises dramatic improvement to the crises we face beyond Brexit: climate, the left behind and a dangerous world:
Change UK should find inspiration in US Congresswoman’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal and commit the UK to net-zero carbon emissions within the next decade. Jeremy Corbyn currently plans to do this by 2050. Only then can we avoid the catastrophe that our children are already out in the streets protesting because of our inaction.
The huge investment and new industries that a Green New Deal would need could be used to empower people left behind in the last 15 years to catch up. We can learn how to do this from leap-frog economies like South Korea, which leapt from being as poor as Ghana in the 1950s to one of the most advanced economies on the planet today through a combination of imported technology and intense collaboration between the state, universities and the private sector.
And we should not dismiss the ideas of Brexiteers as jingoism. Whatever the outcome of Brexit, the 2016 referendum vote means the UK is unlikely to ever be part of the inner of core of Europe. Instead, we should be looking to hold our UN security council seat jointly with Canada and Australia, giving the equivalent weight of the world’s third largest economy to our combined voice, and help build a new international balance of power system to maintain peace.
This is the scale of ambition needed for a British En Marche! The scale of this crisis demands nothing less.
Chris Coghlan founded the Renew Party and is a supporter of Change UK. He tweets as @_chris_coghlan.