Joining the Liberal Democrats

  • I've joined the Liberal Democrats because it is at the forefront of a renewed, progressive and internationalist movement in British politics that shares my values.

  • Chuka Umunna MP

I went into politics to put something back into the community I am from and to help take our country in a progressive direction.  My progressive values lead me to strive to work for a fair and open Britain, which has a strong, mixed market economy, in which everyone can achieve their dreams regardless of their background.  I am unapologetically an internationalist which is why I oppose Brexit and am fighting for the UK to remain in the European Union.  These are very much the values of those I represent in Streatham and the same things that I stood on at the last General Election.

Our country is one of the greatest in the world and has so much potential.  But too many people in my constituency and across the UK face barriers in fulfilling their aspirations and people don’t get the support they need.  Unfortunately, we are deeply divided and unequal nation in 2019.  As the fallout from the 2016 vote to leave the EU has illustrated, Britain is crying out for change.

Our politics is broken and the two main parties, which sit at the heart of the system, are simply not up to addressing these challenges because they are part of the problem, which is why I left the Labour Party earlier this year – I was not prepared to stand idly by and do nothing.  They have exacerbated the problems and are fuelling the divisions not only within their parties but in our country too.  They have failed to provide the leadership and clear direction which the UK desperately needs, and to properly fulfil their constitutional duties as a government and opposition.

The local and European elections illustrated that millions of voters agree with this assessment about the appalling state of the two main parties.  It is clear the tectonic plates are shifting and the public is now more in favour of upending the two party system than at any time in my lifetime. This provides a historic opportunity to realign, change the system, fix our broken politics and resolve the problems which caused people to vote for Brexit in the first place. 

After leaving Labour, I had thought that Britain needed a new party and I believed that was what the millions of politically homeless people in Britain wanted.  I was wrong.  You have your ups and your downs in politics. Politicians are all human, and we have our flaws. I have plenty!  The important thing is to learn the lessons from your mistakes, to listen to what your constituents and the electorate are telling you, and to strive to do better.

I massively underestimated the challenge of building a new, fully fledged party like Change UK in the midst of a national political crisis and attempting to do so at the same time as running a national election campaign.  Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, was right to point to the importance of having a party infrastructure and existing relationships with hundreds of thousands of voters which hugely contributed to the party’s recent election successes.  There is also no doubt that under the First-Past-The-Post electoral system used in Westminster elections, there is space for only one main centre ground offer.  That is clearly the Liberal Democrats.

Beyond Brexit, many have pointed out to me that the progressive values that I champion and hold dear, and the policies I have advocated, are almost exactly the same as those promoted by the Liberal Democrats.  There is no denying this fact, so what more was stopping me from joining?  I found it hard to come to terms with the impact of the public spending cuts which were instigated by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government of 2010-2015.  I did not disagree with the need to reduce the public sector deficit and debt – indeed Labour’s last Chancellor Alistair Darling accepted this.  But I did disagree with the speed and severity of fiscal consolidation, and the extent to which cuts to public spending as opposed to tax increases were made to carry the burden. 

Four years on from their time in office, things have changed.  The Liberal Democrats have voted against every Tory budget since 2015.  They stood on an anti-austerity manifesto in 2017 with, for example, commitments to end the public sector pay cap, increase tax to pay for the NHS and reverse cuts to housing benefit and Universal Credit.  Senior figures – including Vince – have since said that, although they curbed George Osborne’s worst excesses, they should not have allowed measures like the bedroom tax to be introduced.  They also accept that a major mistake was made in making and then breaking a pledge on university tuition fees, which should never happen again. 

Most importantly, the biggest impediment to ending austerity currently is pressing on with Brexit.  According to the Conservative government’s own economic impact assessment, the UK will be poorer under any form of Brexit.  In every Brexit scenario tax receipts will be hit hard, depriving the Exchequer of much needed revenue to invest in public services.  Both Labour and the Tories are committed to facilitating Brexit which will make ending austerity virtually impossible.  The Liberal Democrats are not – they were committed to a People’s Vote and remaining in the EU from the start.

For all these reasons, I have joined the Liberal Democrats because it is at the forefront of a renewed, progressive and internationalist movement in British politics that shares my values.  I am convinced the Liberal Democrats, as the spearhead of a broader progressive movement in civil society, offer the best chance to improve the lives of those I represent as well as countless other citizens across our country.  The time has come to put past differences behind us and, in the national interest, do what is right for the country.  So I urge others to join the party too.