Sketch: Free Heidi Allen
Poor, poor Heidi Allen. Why did no one help her? Why was she left so alone, with no other options? How did it come to this?
In the aftermath of the news, there are sure to be recriminations. Guilt. Accusations. Maybe even a public inquiry. But it’s all too late now, regardless of blame. Heidi Allen has joined the Liberal Democrats and there’s nothing that can be done to change that.
Why? And how? And won’t somebody think of the children? The first thing to say, obviously, is that it’s been horrible to watch her slide into the Lib Dems happen so publicly. It would be a sad story, no matter who it happened to, but this is her fifth party since February, in a system where there are basically only four parties.
Like so many people sucked into depravity, Allen’s journey into the Lib Dems began with the Independent Group, which has come to be very much a gateway organisation for those on the slide into further political irrelevance. The Tories, the Independent Group, Change UK, an independent MP and then rock bottom. It’s the oldest story in the world.
So how did it come to this? We can point the finger all we like, but the real question is why more support wasn’t available to her.
At present, around 30 per cent of the Lib Dems in the Commons were MPs for other parties a couple of months ago, and that’s just the ones we know about.
Sure, the parties are fun at first. The speeches. The launches. The various, differently coloured rosettes. But eventually it will come to feel meaningless. Valueless. Empty. And of course, the obvious question is where will this end? How many parties will Heidi Allen need to join before she is satisfied? When will she stop relentlessly joining and then quitting them?
Explaining her move into the Lib Dems, Allen said it was “time to stand shoulder to shoulder with, not just alongside, those I have collaborated and found shared values with”, and while some would question the difference between standing alongside someone and standing shoulder to shoulder with them - presumably it depends on your relative heights - it did seem to make sense.
“As we face the monumental task ahead of stopping a damaging Brexit, healing the rifts in the UK and rebuilding the UK,” she said, “there is only one party with the honesty, energy and vision to do that.”
There’s only one party with the honesty, energy and vision to fix things? Given how we ended up here, it was genuinely debatable which one she was referring to. Had she moved again? Or was she talking about a party led by Jo Swinson? It wasn’t clear.
Yet in a way, this is on all of us. Everyone thought someone else was watching, and so no one did anything. And now she’s a Lib Dem. Chukka Umunna alone is proof of what can happen when someone is left, without good advice, under the belief they can shake up the whole of UK politics solely through weird soundbites. Meanwhile, the other question is what the influx of Tories and anti-Corbyn Labour MPs will mean for talks over a potential temporary government, set up in the event of a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson.
Of course, it’s not a difficult question, obviously, given Jo Swinson seemed so disgusted by the idea of Jeremy Corbyn as PM, even for a day, that a no-deal Brexit apparently began to look much more attractive. For her part, Swinson pointed out Corbyn “simply does not have the numbers” to command a majority in the Commons. They seemed bold words for the leader of a party with 19 MPs.
Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, responded by telling both Labour and the Lib Dems to “grow up”, in much the same spirit as someone shouting ‘slow down’ at a crashed car.
As the FM put it: “Who leads a temporary govt that will be in office for just a matter of days is not the key issue. What matters is getting this Tory government out, securing an extension and then having a General Election ASAP.”
Well, these are not the words of someone whose electoral strategy relies on poaching Tory MPs, clearly. At present, around 30 per cent of the Lib Dems in the Commons were MPs for other parties a couple of months ago, and that’s just the ones we know about. What if every MP turns out to be a Lib Dem entryist? Or a Liberal Demtryist, to give them their proper title? The Tories should never have opposed electoral reform. It’s no wonder the party seems to feel it has no choice but to take extreme action.
At least when people started worrying about communists sneaking into government during the cold war there was some basic sense of logic to it. Now it’s the Lib Dems, sneaking out of government.
Who knows where it will end? Maybe Boris Johnson has always secretly been a Lib Dem too. Maybe they all are. It certainly makes sense, if you look at what his strategy as PM has done to the Tories. And so while the events to befall Heidi Allen are a tragedy, at least we can all learn something from it. Forget Brexit, it’s the Lib Demtryists you should be worrying about.