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14 August 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 4:43pm

Sarah Wollaston joins the Liberal Democrats in coup for Jo Swinson

By Stephen Bush

Sarah Wollaston, the MP for Totnes who left the Conservative Party to form Change UK, has joined the Liberal Democrats.

It is a major coup for Jo Swinson and her party: it guarantees a day of positive news coverage and the biggest problem parties outside the big two face, in addition to the United Kingdom’s electoral system, is simply getting any coverage.

As I wrote when Chuka Umunna made the same journey a few months back, the more coverage, the more support that minor parties pick up, the more support they receive outside of election time the more likely they are to be able to seriously build on an increased “resting level” of support. (Assuming, as seems fairly likely, that Swinson’s campaign won’t be derailed as Tim Farron’s was.)

It’s an added coup for the Liberal Democrats in that of the three Change founders who sit for seats the party has a semi-plausible chance of winning, they have now coaxed two out of the three into the fold. Wollaston, like Umunna, sits for a constituency that the party came close to winning in 2010 though, as with Umunna’s Streatham constituency they have fallen back there at a parliamentary level. And, as with Streatham, they did well in the constituency in the 2019 European and general elections. Of the remaining independent MPs, only Heidi Allen’s South Cambridgeshire seat, is a particularly viable target for the Liberal Democrats at an election, although a sitting MP always boosts the hopes of taking the seat as they have the benefit of incumbency and the powers of holding office.

Even if they can’t hold these seats at a general election, the Liberal Democrats will be near-certain to improve their standing and their longterm prospects of picking up these constituencies in the future.

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Party strategists will be hopeful that they may be able to add Allen by defection and Laura Gordon in Sheffield Hallam – if, that is, this parliament runs for long enough for there to be a by-election in the latter seat.