Following Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to back an early general election, there was a flurry of news from Liberal Democrat MPs. Former Conservative MP Heidi Allen, who joined the party earlier this month, has decided to step down. But the news of perhaps greater significance is the decision of former Tory minister Sam Gyimah to abandon his seat of East Surrey and instead contest Kensington at the next election.
A pattern is emerging that points to a wider Lib Dem strategy. Three defector MPs – Gyimah, Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna – are being moved from their original seats to contest parts of central London that voted strongly in favour of Remain. Berger is contesting Finchley and Golders Green, Umunna is fighting the Cities of London and Westminster, and now Gyimah has been parachuted into Kensington.
The London results in May’s European elections might have influenced this strategic move, with the Lib Dems outperforming Labour. There is significant overlap between the constituencies now being targeted and the boroughs in which the Lib Dems performed well then. Ominously for Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, even Islington went yellow on that occasion.
This strategy could be a smart move. If not household names in London, the three defectors have attracted their fair share of headlines thanks to their stance on Brexit. Gyimah broke the news of his move in the Remain-leaning Evening Standard.
As one senior Liberal Democrat confided, in an age of identity politics, the party will fight on the basis of people’s “Brexit identities”. They are determined not to be squeezed out by more explicitly Remain policies – hence the decision to back the revocation of Article 50 at this year’s party conference.
Nowhere is the Remain identity so ingrained as in London. Putting up high-profile candidates in the capital signals the Lib Dems’ intent.