Where Are They Now? Heidi Allen
Heidi Allen, Conservative, Change UK and Liberal Democrat MP for South Cambridgeshire 2015 – 2019
“I’m not sure I was ever a politician,” Heidi Allen muses. An odd statement, perhaps, for someone who represented three different political parties as MP for South Cambridgeshire. But Heidi Allen is not a stock career politician, and party politics was never her priority.
“Coalition, that’s my thing,” she says. “Finding middle ground, finding compromise, that’s the most exciting thing about politics for me.”
Elected as a Conservative in 2015, Allen soon attracted the attention of colleagues and the media when she strayed from convention and used her maiden speech to lambast the then chancellor, George Osborne, over his plans to cut tax credits.
“The key difference is people aren’t threatening to kill me now, so that is a definite improvement"
Despite the backlash from her peers, she describes this as simultaneously one of her proudest moments in Parliament and one of her biggest regrets. She ultimately went on to vote for the government cuts later that day.
Reflecting seven years on, Allen admits she had been “blissfully naïve” to listen to the party whips.
“I wish I had voted against the government on that day. Just from a moral conscience point of view,” she says. “Politics is about optics and the signals you send. I didn’t understand that, and I wish I had done.”
Regardless, Allen is confident her speech that day laid the foundations for her work tackling poverty. She talks with pride about the changes she helped lobby for, including reducing the wait time for Universal Credit, as well as improving work allowances, taper rates and Personal Independence Payment assessments. Shortly before she resigned from the Conservative Party to co-found the new party Change UK in 2019, she embarked on an “anti-austerity” tour of the country with former Labour MP now Lord (Frank) Field.
A turbulent period followed her defection. The existence of Change UK was short-lived – disbanding 10 months after forming – and Allen eventually joined the Liberal Democrats before announcing she would not contest the 2019 general election.
Reflecting on this time, Allen says she is proud to think of the “amazing gang I got to hang around with” and is still very close to former Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston in particular.
Despite this, it was a challenging time for her personally as well as politically. Her support for a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union resulted in an onslaught of abuse being directed at her, and for many months she had to sleep with a panic button by her bed. It got so severe that a pro-Brexit former Royal Marine was jailed for threats made against Allen in 2019.
“The key difference [from then] is people aren’t threatening to kill me now, so that is a definite improvement,” she says, half-joking.
Since leaving Parliament, Allen has returned to the sanctuary of her family manufacturing business but maintained an interest in poverty, holding positions as a trustee for the charity Feeding Britain and on the policy committee for the Child Poverty Action Group.
She speaks candidly when talking about her disappointment in not securing a full-time role working on tackling poverty, admitting the pandemic put a stop to “any delusions of grandeur” about securing a dream job.
“I was convinced that was what I would do as my follow-on career,” she says, describing how she applied for a senior job at a national foodbank charity but failed to get shortlisted for interview.
“I was absolutely heartbroken. I still feel that is where my real calling is.”
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