Philip Lee has defected to the Liberal Democrats, sensationally crossing the floor and cutting the government’s parliamentary majority to just one (Charlie Elphicke, who has had the Tory whip removed, continues to vote with the government), upstaging Boris Johnson during his statement to Parliament about the G7.
Johnson is a poor parliamentary performer at the best of times, but what little momentum he had swiftly went out of his sails and he never really recovered.
This is a defection that has been a long time coming, but the party had expected to unveil Lee at their party conference. However, the expectation that an election may happen sooner rather than later, and with the looming loss of the Conservative whip for Lee and other rebels, it made sense to expedite the decision.
It also avoided a perhaps mixed reception in the conference hall.
The move is less universally popular within the Liberal Democrats than the defections of Chuka Umunna and Sarah Wollaston, both of whom were essentially as one with the party platform on most issues.
Lee, in contrast, has a long record of political stances on immigration and LGBT rights that put him well outside the Liberal Democrat mainstream, though the party has had no shortage of likeminded MPs in its recent past (four Liberal Democrat MPs voted against equal marriage, while Tim Farron, who recently led the party, had a patchy voting record and struggled to answer questions on the issue as leader). But the Liberal Democrats are a somewhat eccentric party, in that Lee’s defection – in a seat that the party has no credible hope of retaining at the next election – is attracting a great deal of opposition, in a way that the views of its literal leader not two years ago did not.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if Lee fails to be readopted by his local party if they have time for a vote – though the looming election may mean that the issue becomes redundant.