The gloves come off at Change UK
And so to Norwich, where Change UK are holding an EU elections rally.
The venue: a nondescript conference centre near the railway station of which Alan Partridge would surely be proud. There is no sign outside, and the foyer is more or less empty.
At the top of a small, winding staircase, 250 or so people cram into a room on the first floor.
The atmosphere is friendly and good-natured. The audience is almost exclusively caucasian and middle-aged. Most seem to be former Labour Party supporters. One or two sport EU t-shirts. Many men have beards.
The politicians keep the crowd waiting. A former Labour MP stands in as warm-up act and asks for patience; a few minutes later a youthful party activist signals the arrival of the speakers. Let’s give them a rousing welcome, he urges.
In they come, to a whirl of whoops and cheers and tweets.
Change UK’s interim leader Heidi Allen MP introduces the candidates. Two speak, one is an engineer new to politics, the other a former Labour Party member. An Oxford University student follows. Each speaks with passion.
Next up is Anna Soubry MP. Labour and the Tories will do anything to stop the European elections happening, she warns, before rounding on the Liberal Democrats as symptomatic of yesterday’s politics.
Soubry, clearly Change UK’s star attraction in this ancient and verdant corner of eastern middle England, speaks rousingly and concludes with a call for the faithful to go out and multiply.
And with that, Heidi Allen brings matters to a close. The room starts to empty.
The rally feels positive but, Soubry aside, also feels a little flat and scripted. No questions are taken, and there are no flags or leaflets or bunting. The invitation talked of a new election bus, but it failed to make an appearance.
More substantively, other than Brexit and the inequities of the first-past-the-post voting system, Change UK seems to have little appetite for spelling out why UK politics is broken or what change might look like. There is almost no meat on the broader policy bone.
The absence of substance has clearly not deterred Change UK from sharpening its attacks on its political rivals. The LibDems, flush on the back of their Council elections success, now appear to be the real target, and talk of a Remain Alliance has been neatly redacted.
Overall, Change UK’s talk of changing politics comes across as little more than an attempt to reshuffle the UK’s centre-ground political deck chairs and otherwise preserve the status quo.
If it is to succeed in even this limited sense, the party needs some truly distinctive policies, better organisation, and a good deal more personality and energy.