The Once and Future Party

Sorry I’ve been so quiet lately.

A couple of days ago, I got dumped.

I’ve been curled up in a ball, ugly crying and wiping snot off my face while listening to cliched break up anthems- the ones with shouty choruses. I don’t know if we’ll just be good friends or if this will be an open relationship or we’re just allowed to flirt. There might be someone else in the picture already. I have no fecking idea.

I’m blindsided.

I’m heartbroken.

I was in love with hope.

I was in love with TIG/Change UK.

So, by now we’ve heard both sides. The Five ChUkers were all-in on campaigning for the European elections while the TIG Six were more circumspect about standing candidates without the infrastructure to get out the vote. The TIG Six wanted to encourage tactical voting to maximise the Remain vote while the Five ChUkers wanted to get a few wins under our banner and establish ourselves as the unequivocal Remain force in the land. One side advocated caution and compromise and the other believed that a bold gamble would pay off.

I have sympathy with both arguments despite our electoral drubbing. It was great to meet up and leaflet with other activists who had only been Twitter handles. It was energising to talk to voters on the street who gave us a hearing. For many people out there, this was the first time they had heard of us- yeah, not everyone starts their day with Politico London Playbook and ends with Newsnight. We really believed in this party and we finally had a chance to tell people why. We took so much of our own positivity as an omen of success But, as the song goes, just because it feels good, doesn’t make it right.

However, it was always going to be a tough sell to stump for a Party with no official platform. What do we want? Remain! What else do we want? Well, there’s this thirty-four page think tank paper you should read which sets out the broad principles of our political philosophy but we’re going to hold events where you can…….See? Even your eyes glazed over a little. What did get people to stop and talk is when we referred them to RemainVoter to check how best they could vote tactically. That got their attention. We came across as what we are- decent, honest, thoughtful and anti-ideological. That’s where the TIG Six were. That very same pragmatism when captured in a sound bite came across as lack of conviction and seriousness of purpose. We didn’t look like winners. We looked like a wasted vote.

We can dissect all the other missteps and enumerate them like the still-damp tissues I have arranged in a circle at my feet as a tribute to the gods of political self-pity. We had a laughably bad new name, a new logo that required a degree in semiotics to understand and a complete absence of media strategy to come up with a consistent message or even articulate why anyone should vote for us. The local election gains of the Lib Dems changed the equation and we couldn’t agree on how to respond. Those competing arguments were aired on the air. Rule numero uno in politics- debate the OTHER parties.

Have you ever had an argument with a spouse or partner at a dinner party? Your lips curled in a frozen smile and teeth gritted while you sotto voce explain that whatever your partner or spouse has just said is wrong/offensive/likely to get you both shivved. We started as eleven MPs breaking bread at Nando’s and ended with the equivalent of grinding your heel into your partner’s foot to get them to STFU.

Now each of us has a choice to make. Some of us can’t see the Lib Dems as anything other than a different flavour of the left with its own unrepented history of antisemitism, crank pacifism and a fixation on changing the electoral system to the exclusion of articulating any other policy. They’ve sort of been the Party equivalent of beige. They go with everything, they’re mostly inoffensive but aren’t anybody’s favourite colour. If there was some sort of electoral pact between the TIG Six and the Lib Dems, it might just blow up in a different way. We’d be the junior partners in that firm and they might not welcome our challenge to their established base. I can’t picture any of the TIG Six wearing fleece and walking sandals. Can you?

The TIG Six might be hoping that defectors from Labour and the Conservatives will see the reclaimed Independent label as a more comfortable halfway house. A General Election called by a new hard Brexiteer PM would take the shackles of majority maintenance off pro-EU MPs in Remain seats. Mass deselections and the completion of the BlueKip Entry Project might concentrate some minds. After the Peterborough by-election, more than a few Labour MPs are questioning how long they can enable their Party’s antisemitism. Tom Watson’s appearance in support of Lisa Forbes shows his antiracism rhetoric to be hollow and his will to power to be without principle. The great political realignment to come might just need a loose group of independent MPs who can agree on enough to be the kingmakers in a possible hung parliament. They might hold the balance of power to keep bad from becoming worse.

On the other hand, the ChUK Five might, as a more temperamentally cohesive force, find the discipline to articulate common sense centrism to a country in chaos. The times are volatile and we can’t predict what will happen next week. If there is discontent in the Remain electorate and it fails to find inspiration in the LibDems new leader, a strong slate of ChUK candidates might do very well. This period of internal turmoil and reformation may help the ChUK Five avoid the same past mistakes.They wouldn’t be dependent on defectors and malcontents and could summon new candidates who come with name recognition. To some extent, this was the selection strategy in the EU election and the ChUK Five can only hope that they haven’t exhausted the goodwill of stars like Gavin Esler. Now they have time for a proper rebranding exercise and some breathing room to decide what they want to be when they grow up. They might learn to articulate Centrism in a way that sounds radical and fresh.

I’ll admit I’m as torn as my tissues. As long as the corruption that lead to Brexit goes unexamined and unchecked and as long as racism and reheated Marxism remains a threat to our country, we need to work for something better. If you’re reading this, you are probably wrestling with this choice too. For now, I will chose not to make a choice. My admiration for the bravery of all eleven of our MPs remains undimmed. In time, I might see this split as part and parcel of this bravery. Knowing when to call time on a dysfunctional relationship is a grown up thing. Knowing that you should do it before you can’t remember who bought which LPs and arguing whether to divide the dog front and back or lengthwise is admirable too.

Of course, in my heart of hearts, I believe in love. I resist accepting that this split is permanent as long as there’s more that unites us than divides us. So, I’m re-tuning the radio and singing Let’s Stick Together into my hairbrush and hoping for better times.

Rebecca Strom Trenner is a writer who has become disillusioned with the claims of the beauty industry. There is no such thing as cry-proof mascara, you liars!