In February 2019, Berger was one of the founders of what was then called ‘The Independent Group’. In June, she and several others left what was now Change UK. Today, she joins former Change UK colleagues Sarah Wollaston (originally Tory) and Chuka Umunna (originally Labour) becoming one of 16 Lib Dem MPs now in parliament.
Understandably, the Lib Dems were cock-a-hoop:
Welcome to our newest MP – @lucianaberger !
The Liberal Democrats are surging – we're the biggest, strongest Remain party. The time for action is now
— Liberal Democrats (@LibDems) September 5, 2019
But the party’s dodgy claim to be “the biggest, strongest Remain party” didn’t go unchallenged:
With 16 MPs almost half of whom have "borrowed gowns"? Will that last past the election? By the way SNP is the biggest remain party
— Blessing Sibanda🆙 (@BleSibs) September 5, 2019
You're still 21 seats behind the SNP.
— Liam McReanan (@LiamMcReanan) September 5, 2019
— Jack Faulkner (@Jackcantsleep1) September 5, 2019
And it’s true. Not only does the SNP have 35 MPs to the Lib Dems’ 16, it also has a larger membership. According to the latest figures, the Lib Dems have “around 115,000” members, compared to the SNP’s 125,500. So the only possible sense in which the Lib Dems could be bigger would be in geographical reach, as the SNP focuses on Scotland. But that’s probably not what they meant.
And there was a further challenge to the celebratory mood:
@lucianaberger happy sharing a party with a homophobic racist from the Tory benches?
— nick figgis (@nickfiggis) September 5, 2019
On 3 September, Tory MP Phillip Lee dramatically marched over to the opposition benches and sat down next to Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson. As with Berger, the Lib Dems celebrated gaining an MP. And as with Berger, the Lib Dems inaccurately claimed to be “the biggest party of Remain”. But there was also anger from Lib Dem members:
I am not going to welcome Philip Lee to the Liberal Democrats; his statement is entirely about Brexit, and fails to address the deeply illiberal policies on LGBT+ issues and immigration he has championed in the past.
— 🔸🔶 Alisdair Calder McGregor 🔶🔸 (@A_C_McGregor) September 3, 2019
Plenty of members don't think this is fantastic news. Obviously we're happy to see parliamentary numbers grow but Lee does not have a voting record a liberal would be even remotely proud of…
— Chris Whiting (@ChrisRWhiting) September 3, 2019
In fact, the arrival of Lee was too much to take for chair of the party’s LGBT+ group Jennie Rigg:
The chair of LGBT Lib Dems quits the party in response to Philip Lee joining.
“A homophobe, a xenophobe, and someone who thinks people should be barred from the country if they are ill.
Fuck this so hard.” https://t.co/CBcd0LZTPA
— Oliver Cooper (@OliverCooper) September 3, 2019
Rigg voiced her thoughts on her blog, announcing that she was leaving the party in response to it allowing Lee to join.
This begs the question: will Swinson’s apparent policy of welcome for any homeless pro-Remain MP make the party ‘bigger’ and ‘stronger’, or will it have the opposite effect?
Since you're here ...
We know you don't need a lecture. You wouldn't be here if you didn't care.
Now, more than ever, we need your help to challenge the rightwing press and hold power to account. Please help us survive and thrive.