At a time when British politics has been increasingly fractured, with intra-party tensions cutting across both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, small political groupings and independent MPs in the Commons have taken on a more significant position than ever before. This book explores the rise and fall of Change UK within the wider context of the experiences of other small political groupings in the House of Commons. It examines the struggles facing MPs who leave behind the comforts of the large political parties and the strategies they use to draw attention to their cause.
The morning of 18 February 2019 marked a change in the composition of the House of Commons. Over the next three days, 12 sitting MPs would leave the comforts of the two main political parties and form an independent parliamentary grouping. United in their frustration with their parties’ approaches to Brexit and their desire for a different kind of politics, these MPs went on to form a new political party, Change UK. This chapter provides an overview of the Change UK story and explains how its rise and fall demonstrates well the challenges facing small parties in the Commons.
Having established themselves as a new parliamentary group, Change UK MPs needed to re-acquaint themselves with the House of Commons from the perspective of the small party benches. This chapter discusses how the majoritarian underpinnings of House of Commons’ procedures result in few guaranteed rights for small parties in the chamber, the committee rooms and across the parliamentary estate. It examines the impact of this on Change UK, using the parliamentary behaviour of Change UK as well as the experiences of other small parties to show how the lack of parliamentary rights can be a barrier to small party voices in the chamber.
At the time of its creation, Change UK was a parliamentary party with no real national party organisation. Lacking the resources and structures of the more established parties provided a challenge to both its national and its parliamentary organisation. Drawing on the expansion of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 2015, this chapter highlights the challenges facing small parties as they balance the demands of multiple policy portfolios with the lack of party funding. It demonstrates the tensions developing within Change UK around the speed at which the party’s infrastructure was created and how the decisions made would be crucial for the party’s performance at the European parliamentary elections.
The MPs of Change UK found themselves thrown into an unfamiliar parliamentary and political position in early 2017, but they had actively considered the strategies used by other political parties to make an impact in the Commons. This chapter showcases examples of small parties circumventing the procedural and parliamentary constraints which are often placed upon them. We see how Caroline Lucas of the Green Party successfully raises green issues and how the SNP’s clever use of interventions maximises its airtime in the Commons chamber. It demonstrates how Change UK began to mirror some of these strategies but stresses the need for informal agreements and cross-party dialogue to provide a consistent platform for small parties in parliament.
Although the UK is a predominantly two-party system, small parties have maintained a presence in the parliamentary landscape over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Recent years have seen the emergence of new political parties in parliamentary institutions at the national, sub-national and supranational level and this was illustrated well by the 2019 European parliamentary elections. The failure of Change UK to establish itself firmly within the political landscape was a result of the nature of its creation (as a parliamentary party without a political party infrastructure), its trajectory from loose independent grouping to fully fledged political party and the resolution of the Brexit impasse which had underpinned its initial political momentum and cohesion. This chapter evaluates Change UK’s ten months in the Commons and discusses the implications of its collapse for multi-party politics.