One of Theresa May’s ministers is among MPs who are thinking of defecting to The Independent Group, Chuka Umunna reveals today in an interview with the Evening Standard.
The frontman of Britain’s new political centre force said the unnamed Conservative, a minister of state, had sent him a supportive letter after the group’s launch.
Mr Umunna, who called the development “extraordinary”, said “a lot” of both Labour and Tory MPs were giving signals that they could defect. “Everybody is on their own journey,” he said. “It’s a very personal decision. You may know people are on the journey; you never know when they are going to get to the destination.”
Asked whether the current 11-strong group of MPs — nicknamed the TIGs — could double in size, he said: “I think there are a lot of MPs in both parties who are on that journey, but when they reach the destination, who knows?
“I got a very nice letter from a minister of state, actually, that suggested they were on the journey, which is quite extraordinary.” Mr Umunna’s disclosure will set alarm bells ringing in Downing Street — and spark a guessing game over the identity of the Tory.
Revealing the behind-the-scenes drama of TIG’s surprise launch at Westminster two weeks ago, Mr Umunna said they resorted to “MI5” style tactics to keep the plan secret. He even used a codeword in his diary to record meetings, writing PBP, short for Pre-Brexit Planning, even though Brexit was only a small part of the discussions.
Even so, the launch was almost rumbled when a worker blundered into a meeting, just as Luciana Berger was practising announcing, “We have today resigned from the Labour Party”.
Mr Umunna said the group has set a deadline of this autumn to launch themselves as a fully fledged party and intend to contest every UK parliamentary seat at the next general election. The Streatham MP unveiled bold proposals of his own to bring back a modernised form of “national service” for all school leavers, change the voting system, turn the gothic House of Commons into a museum and replace it with a brand new chamber.
His proposals, to be officially launched in a pamphlet tomorrow, will go into TIG’s first policy forum, kickstarting the countdown to their debut manifesto at the 2022 election.
Two weeks after the launch, Mr Umunna said: “The reaction from people on the bus and Tube has been overwhelmingly positive. All our other halves have said ‘Gosh, you look happier, you’ve got a spring in your step.’
“I have to confess I was dreading the first vote in the Commons a few hours after the launch. But people shook our hands and said, ‘We understand why you’ve made the decision’. People gave us hugs when I had expected them to blank me.”
Mr Umunna said he would never have believed he might leave Labour when he joined the party 22 years ago, but added that it was no longer the same party.
“It has been painful and really difficult,” he said. “But the fact is the Labour Party is now a different party. It is a new party with a different membership. Eighty per cent of the members in Streatham joined after May 2015 [when Jeremy Corbyn launched his leadership bid].”
The new members were not only hard-Left and hostile to the traditional members, but they also did not reflect the local multiracial community. “At the last big meeting I went to, of about 400 people there were less than 30 people of colour in the room,” said the MP, who was the first black MP elected to the Brixton area. “That’s in a constituency where it is 40 per cent or so BME.”