Umunna attacks ‘rule-flouting’ Johnson and former boss Corbyn

Defector from Labour says Lib Dems could win at least 40 seats in election

Chuka Umunna embraces Paddy Ashdown’s widow, Jane Courtenay, after speaking during the Liberal Democrats autumn conference. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Chuka Umunna embraces Paddy Ashdown’s widow, Jane Courtenay, after speaking during the Liberal Democrats autumn conference. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

 

Chuka Umunna may have taken the scenic route to the Liberal Democrats’ conference in Bournemouth, starting this year as a Labour MP, launching Change UK and then sitting as an Independent before joining the party. But he received a resounding welcome when he took to the stage and a standing ovation for his barnstorming attack on Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.

As the Liberal Democrats’ foreign policy spokesman, Umunna cast Johnson and Corbyn as threats to the international liberal order and Britain’s place in it.

“What is clear is that we will not see the leadership on the world stage required from the new occupant of No 10. You cannot defend a liberal, rules-based order when you so openly flout the rules at home. Boris Johnson has facilitated the takeover of her majesty’s government by the remnants of the Vote Leave campaign,” he said.

“Now, as he seeks to force through this catastrophic no-deal Brexit, the prime minister has shut down parliament and he is threatening to break the law if necessary.”

He said Corbyn could not present himself as a champion of liberal values when Labour was facing an official investigation over anti-Semitism and critics of the party leadership were facing the threat of deselection.

Membership boom

The Liberal Democrats have seen their membership more than double to 120,000 as their anti-Brexit message has become sharper, and this year’s conference is their biggest since 2012.

Six MPs have defected to the Liberal Democrats in recent months and a byelection victory has brought their representation in the Commons to 18, a figure Umunna is confident they can increase to at least 40 at the next election.

“We know from the internal polling that if we move from the position we are in, and say there is a 1.5-2 per cent swing, we can get up to 100 seats. If there is a 5 per cent swing towards the Liberal Democrats through the course of the campaign, 200 seats are in contention,” he told reporters after his speech.

Among the seats the Liberal Democrats need to win back are those in their traditional stronghold of southwest England such as North Devon, which the party lost to the Conservatives in 2015. That task may have become more difficult on Monday after the party’s candidate, Kirsten Johnson, offered the BBC her analysis of why the constituency backed Brexit in 2016.

“Demographically it’s 98 per cent white. We don’t have a lot of ethnic minorities living in North Devon. People aren’t exposed to people from other countries. They don’t travel a lot,” she said.

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