Where Change UK will go next

The rump party plans to fight on as an electoral entity in its own right - but questions remain over its ability to confront its limitations.

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After the resignation of its leader, spokesperson, convenor and three more of its 11 MPs, where next for what remains of Change UK? Bleak though the outlook is, the gang of five is determined to fight on.

In public, the official line is that the split was amicable. Both sides say they will work together, alongside likeminded MPs from other parties, in future. Change sources stress, as the splitters do, that the main disagreement was over tactics. Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen wanted the party to become a more nebulous movement that did not fight elections in its own right (raising the question of how they intended to continue as MPs). Gavin Shuker and Angela Smith preferred its original incarnation as a looser coalition of independents. Those that remain believe there is life in the party as a going electoral concern. They insist – for now, at least – that they are in it for the long haul. "We've got a responsibility to plant a flag and hang on to it," says one senior Change source, "whatever happens."

To that end, Anna Soubry has been elected the rump party's leader, with Chris Leslie chairing its management committee – its all-powerful ruling body. The plan now is to draw up a detailed policy platform of a social democratic hue an exercise led by Ann Coffey) and with it plans to break what the party describes as the Westminster cartel: working with the other small parties at Westminster to push for a commission on televised debates and reform of broadcasting guidelines and campaign funding rules. All of which feels a little rich coming from MPs who were happy to reap the benefits of said cartel when in government under Blair. 

On Brexit, meanwhile, Change's policy is still to revoke Article 50. Crucially, they say are prepared to work with other parties to achieve it – both inside and outside of Parliament.

A perceived aversion to that sort of cooperation is what ultimately precipitated yesterday's split. It arguably contributed to Change's dismal showing on 23 May too. But senior sources say the charge that they refused to work with the Liberal Democrats – levelled most notably by Allen – is "an absolute lie". "The idea that we haven't been working with them," said one, "is for the birds." 

They also insist that the parties' failure to agree some form of electoral pact was the consequence of the fact that formal discussions never took place, rather than any deliberate obstructionism on Change's part. But what about the leaked memo that set out a strategy for supplanting the Lib Dems as the leading party of the centre? Those still in the tent deny responsibility or even knowledge of it. Sources imply – without making any explicit allegation – that Chuka Umunna was responsible.

Another points to research, from Durham University psephologist David Cowling, indicating that up to 26 per cent of voters who cast a ballot in this year's European elections made up their mind on 23 May itself. That, they say, is evidence that Allen's Channel 4 interview suppressed the Change vote. The harshest words, however, are reserved for the Lib Dems themselves. One Change MP accuses their rivals of waging a "dirty tricks" campaign in the run-up to the European elections, specifically by "manipulating" Change's top candidate in Scotland, David MacDonald, into publicly endorsing them ahead of polling day.

Despite all of this, Change sources maintain they are still willing to work with the Liberal Democrats, as much as they blanch at the prospect of joining them. And, while keen to stress their independence and political distinctiveness from the other parties of Remain, they are open to fighting elections jointly on a case-by-case basis. But if they are to have any chance of survival, they must reckon with the fact that in any conversation they will have by far the weakest hand. It isn't yet clear that they have.

Patrick Maguire was political correspondent at the New Statesman.

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