Marx de Morais has stood three times as a candidate for Camden Council, twice as a Conservative and then as an Independent, backed by the pro-European umbrella group “The Movement”, a student political education project he co-founded at the University of Westminster. He stood down as a Tory candidate before last year’s borough elections, dismayed by the local party’s approach to Brexit in the campaign. He is now an energetic supporter of Change UK, which has just secured approval as a political party. We conducted this Q&A by email.
Question: What is your role in the London TIG/Change UK project?
Answer: Home is where the heart is, and for me that is Camden, the amazing borough which has been my home for the past eight years. I’m currently building on my past local campaigns to increase and coordinate the Change UK supporter and activist base in Camden, and I am also active in bringing them together across London. I organised our first event for activists and supporters last Monday, with Gavin Shuker MP in attendance. We really do want to do things differently, with a more inclusive approach, where everyone is heard, not just those who have the loudest voices. I am someone “with an abundance of hope for the future” (Ham & High) and my role is to radiate that across Camden and London as a whole for Change UK.
Q: Can you tell me roughly how many people have been involved in supporting the Independent Group and the Change UK project in your area and across London as whole, and anything about them, such as their age profile and any previous political party affiliations?
A: Change UK will represent a diversity of opinions that reflect the complexity of our society. It’s not just about Brexit, although that is the catalyst which has brought us together. Our supporters still share the British tradition, envied throughout the world – to “agree to disagree”. Last Monday we held our first London meeting and it was amazing to bring so many different people together and see that we have not forgotten to talk to each other – and to enjoy and great British tradition of scones with cream and jam.
Reasons given by Londoners for supporting TIG include:
“This is about all our futures. There are underlying problems which need addressing in society. It’s time for a new start, a new beginning – that’s best achieved with a new party.” – Jonathan Livingstone.
“I was a card-carrying member of New Labour, and more recently, until Anna Soubry’s defection, was an approved candidate on the Conservative list of parliamentary candidates for the next general election.” – Kate Denham.
“I’ve come on a political journey that started as an intern in parliament for a Tory MP, then switching to support the Lib Dems post-referendum. But they have done a poor job of fighting Brexit and representing the centre ground.” – James Diggle.
In summary we have a mixture of political camps and others who previously had no political home. It is too early to make any statement on membership numbers, but we have hundreds of thousands of supporters across social media and a number of registered supporters equivalent to the population of a middle-sized city. It really is incredible – and indeed truly unprecedented – to have seen the social media groups grow in advance of the party being given its formal approvals by the Electoral Commission. In London, we have a core of several hundred activists who are spending time building local structures. Change UK can therefore immediately be present in many local areas, including Camden.
Q: It has been reported that plenty have people have put their names forward as possible Change UK candidates in May’s European elections, assuming the UK has not left the EU by then. What is the situation in London?
A: Change UK has received hundreds of emails from people across the UK who would like to register as European parliamentary candidates, and this interest and excitement has been mirrored in London. Londoners who have expressed this great interest in representing our country as Change UK MEPs are as diverse as those who have applied from other parts of the UK; they are from both sides of the left-right political divide, representing a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, ages and careers. It is particularly refreshing to see also the involvement from people who have no previous active political involvement. It is possible to apply as a candidate until 10 a.m. on Monday 15 April and I would strongly encourage anyone who like me is tired of what our politics has become to join us at Change UK. We want to give the voting public the choice of the best possible 73 candidates to ensure we are properly represented in Brussels.
Q: Do you anticipate there being Change UK candidates for London Mayor and for London Assembly seats next year? If so, what stage have you reached with finding such candidates?
A: We need to change our broken politics at all levels, and I believe Change UK fully intend giving Londoners a fresh choice to ensure that we can all share the prosperity of our great city. Our public services are stretched as never before, and it is important that the mayor is held to account on issues such as Crossrail delays, failing to deliver on targets for building affordable homes and Londoners’ concerns on crime. The current political malaise in Westminster highlights the old adage that a government is only as good as its opposition. It is therefore essential that a possible Change UK’s candidate for London Mayor is someone who can credibly win the keys to City Hall as it is abundantly clear from recent polling that the other declared candidates will not. Change UK will build on the candidate selection process for the European parliament in selecting candidates for London Assembly seats. I would love to run as a Change UK London Assembly candidate if I have the honour of being selected.
Q: To become something more than a pro-EU party or movement in the long term, TIG/Change UK will have to stand for something more than our relationship with the European Union and will need to differentiate itself from all the current established political parties. Can you suggest what values it will need to champion if it is to make its mark on London government, both at borough and City Hall levels, and if it is to win London parliamentary seats?
A: At the recent activist event, Gavin Shuker remarked that “politics is a fundamentally a deeply human process – you have a conversation about someone about this crisis that we’re in and on one level you’re talking about politics but on another level you’re looking into someone’s soul.” UK politics is broken at the moment, Change UK is already different, the question is whether the established political parties have the ability to change, and on the face of it the answer is a resounding “no”. As a “once an enthusiastic member of the Conservative Party,” (BBC News) I am looking forward to actively participating in Change UK. I stand for reason-based politics: to be centrist and in case of doubt, to be progressive; to stand up for equal opportunities for everyone; to stand up for our environment in the decision-making process; and to stand up for the right to individuality. One of my personal concerns is that we must prioritise young people’s futures and be mindful of the impact of law and order policies.
Our urban society is in real danger of being brutalised and is already becoming colder. It’s not just pretty phrases like “London the best city in the world,” we finally need a real dream about the future of our city, which we can tackle to make it happen. Only then can we be sure we will remain the best city in the world. We have many problems in London for which we need urgently to find an answer.
Knife and youth crime are part of it, I’m the last one against more police to protect ourselves in such an acute situation, but that cannot end up being financed with budget cuts to social facilities for both young and old. If we really want to solve the problem and not just treat it, we need a massive budget increase for our youth clubs. I also know from personal experience that it is these facilities that keep our children and teenagers off the streets and out of gangs.
The horrible housing situation also needs addressing. I have lived in several cities throughout Europe, but it is unacceptable that so many Londoners have to pay excessively to live in places unfit for living. We must be honest if we are to solve this problem and not just give it cosmetic treatment. The promise that everyone can be a home owner no longer corresponds to reality and does more harm than good; it must be replaced with rental and other affordable housing solutions.
We can achieve this with a new type of political party, where membership isn’t run across lines on a map, but instead with a membership structure which fits with the 21st century. This will provide the springboard for the European Parliament campaign and enables us to build representation in parliament, City Hall and borough levels too. And let me say it unmistakably, Change UK will be a party built by its members out of their best intentions and not a party that wants to shape its members.