Still firmly stuck in the “denial” stage of the grieving process, some bitter Remainers are now pinning their hopes on a new political party with the sole aim of thwarting Brexit
A number of overexcitable Remainers seem to be getting carried away with the idea that a brand new political party, dedicated solely to the purpose of thwarting Brexit, might be the answer to their prayers.
We first saw this idea floated in the Financial Times by Janan Ganesh, who did a masterful job of suppressing everything he knows about the British political system to convince himself that the idea might actually have merit:
A new political grouping has been in fitful gestation since Britain voted to leave the EU. Uncomfortable in their own parties, a few Conservative and Labour politicians have probed the idea in discreet settings. Donors are primed with start-up capital. Tony Blair has improvised a role as a curator of these forces, and at times as their frontman. An electorate that has withheld a decisive win from any party since his own days as prime minister is plainly open to some disruptive entrant to the market. If it shows promise, Liberal Democrat MPs might subsume themselves into it rather than stagger on as a futile dozen.
For all this, the breakthrough never comes — and not because Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system stymies the new. The project never gets that far. The trouble begins earlier. To avoid caricature as pro-European monomaniacs, and to let their restless energies roam, the people involved aspire to stand for something broad: political moderation in an age of extremes. This requires them to have policies, or at least first principles, across the full spectrum of government business. But each time a putative party settles its view on, say, fiscal policy or healthcare, it will alienate some of its original and potential supporters. It also loses definition. Before the project has a single achievement to its name, it is bogged down in matters of internal theology. It becomes a paradox: a fissiparous political party with no MPs.
Ganesh concludes with a well-rehearsed yet tone-deaf paean to the kind of bland, managerialist centrism which sparked this anti-establishment backlash in the first place:
A wider manifesto for moderate government might emerge, but only over time and as a consequence, not a cause, of the movement’s success. To design an entire worldview upfront is to wallow in detail before any political momentum has been established. And to lose friends in the process.
And yet the foolish idea is now gaining traction, with journalist (and ex-Chief of Staff to Brexit Secretary David Davis) James Chapman promoting the idea, as the Guardian excitedly reports:
A former chief of staff to David Davis has said Brexit is a catastrophe that must be stopped and called on centrist MPs to form a new party.
James Chapman, who worked for the Brexit secretary for a year as the Department for Exiting the European Union was set up, suggested the new party should be called the Democrats and claimed some “very interesting people” wanted to be involved.
[..] Chapman, who previously worked for George Osborne, said anti-Brexit MPs such as Anna Soubry, Grant Shapps and Mark Harper had more in common with party opponents such as Rachel Reeves and Vince Cable than “Owen Paterson et al”.
Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the delicious irony of a political party explicitly founded to overturn the results of a democratic referendum – and all in order to ensure that Britain remains a part of a supranational political union whose very purpose is to undermine nation state democracy – calling themselves the Democrats. This utterly shameless tactic is taken straight from the Karl Rove playbook, with Remainers projecting their own flaws onto their opponents while claiming the virtues of Brexiteers (commitment to democracy) as their own.
Nevertheless, Janan Ganesh and James Chapman both seemingly believe that the best way to overturn the result of the EU referendum and thwart Brexit is for pro-Europeans to band together and campaign only on that single issue, in the name of moderation and to avoid deadly infighting by introducing other ideological squabbles to the debate. But the problem with this thinking is that by definition, only those disaffected MPs who feel most strongly about stopping Brexit would join such a party, and they tend to be the swivel-eyed euro-federalists or dim but enthusiastic EU cheerleaders.
What the Remainers forget is that while the Leave campaign may only have won the referendum 52% to 48%, many of the 48% also have no real love for the EU. Even in my own North London constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn, one of the most defiantly Remain-voting constituencies in the entire country, I have spoken to numerous people who voted Remain either grudgingly or out of alarm at the apocalyptic stories spun by Britain Stronger in Europe.
Arch-Remainers have tended to assume – wrongly – that the full 48% who voted to Remain in the EU did so because they share the same fanatical devotion to the European Union as themselves, but this is not the case. Many people strongly bought into the Leave campaign’s argument about sovereignty and self-determination, but voted Remain because they prioritised short-term economic security over long-term democratic security. And one cannot entirely blame them for doing so – I fully admit that I am something of an outlier with my unfashionable, somewhat fanatical obsession with constitutional issues.
So how would a British public which was probably much more than 52% hostile to the EU at the time of the referendum react to the formation of a new political party created with the expressed intention of overturning the referendum result? Janan Ganesh clearly thinks that such a party would be greeted like liberators, come to rescue benighted Britain from the evil clutches of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. I’m not so sure.
While as a country we may be increasingly confused about what “British values” really mean, most of us would still point to the importance we attach to “fair play” being a defining national trait. And I think that the British people would take one look at a bunch of establishment arch-Remainers (led by Tony Blair, no less) attempting to undo the referendum result as a grave insult and a brazen power grab.
The New Party campaigners also totally overlook the dynamics of individual constituency races in favour of national polling. Even assuming that a new political party got off the ground (I’m not holding my breath) it would face exactly the same challenges as the SDP back in the 1980s, squeezed between a rock and a hard place as Labour and the Conservatives refused to stand aside.
Even Owen Jones sees through the scam:
And what then would be the point of such a party with (at best) only a handful of fanatical europhile MPs in Parliament? Even if Theresa May’s government falls before the next scheduled general election, the chances are that Brexit will either be concluded by this point or more likely that negotiations will be so far advanced (perhaps with a negotiation extended) that it is no longer possible to undo without accepting revised membership on harsh new terms (no budget rebate, mandatory joining of both Schengen and the Euro) that an overwhelming number of Britons would find unacceptable.
The whole idea is a complete non-starter, the futile fantasy of an establishment class which still believes that it can simply circumvent or nullify democratic outcomes rather than doing the hard work of convincing people and winning them over to their side. A year on from the referendum and the tantrum continues with no sign of abatement.
Having said that, by all means let them try. Lord knows that the Conservative Party would be an immeasurably better entity without the likes of Anna Soubry and Grant Shapps.
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