On the Need for an Anti-Brexit Party, and Why Britain Won’t Get One

For me, the depressing state of Britain’s politics was summed up by a tweet: “Bored of 'I hate Tories & Brexit' so 'I want Labour & will conveniently forget they also back Brexit,'“ Tim Walker wrote.

He’s right. The government is stumbling like a bad drunk to a hard and chaotic Brexit. The opposition would rather talked about anything except the most important issue of the day. The Lib Dems talk a good game but lack credibility.

For every study that is done that shows the country wants a hard Brexit, there is another that shows voters put economic stability before immigration control. With the staying power of Banquo at a bad dinner party, Nigel Farage haunts BBC studios to tell us that a transition period involving Customs Union and Single Market membership was not what the British people voted for. With these sorts of powers of clairvoyance, the former Ukip leader should play the lottery. Or perhaps the BBC should just stop phoning him.

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of hard Brexit. I’ll leave readers to decide which is which. They are failed leaders advocating a failed policy.

Brexit has a huge capacity for economic, and therefore political, disruption

Clearly there is a need for a new party, one that will first provide opposition to the government on Brexit. It would fill the vacuum that Jeremy Corbyn has left. This is a weak government, it lacks a majority and is divided. There is every possibility that it will fall. However, it would take a cunning opposition to do that. Corbyn has turned into an effective operator but his anti-capitalist heart is not in the fight to save our membership of a neoliberal club.

It is no good campaigning in Chingford on the NHS when the fight is in Westminster on Brexit. It is the one issue that just might topple the Conservatives.

Within the Conservative Party, May has fierce opponents. Sanity has not totally deserted the party (yet). Heidi Allen has said she would leave were Jacob Rees-Mogg (not so much Hard Brexiter as Dense Brexiter) to be elected leader. Anna Soubry has not ruled out joining a new group. There are plenty more beneath the radar who are concerned about the direction the government is taking.

Former Treasury Spad, James Chapman, is launching a new party, the Democrats. He tweets furiously about Brexit, and the betrayal Brexiters have inflicted upon the country. There is no doubting his passion or commitment. The trouble is that there is no theme to his pudding. Or to put it better, there are no names.

In 1981, despondency at Michael Foot’s leadership drove the gang of three to set up the SDP; they were joined by Roy Jenkins, who had been President of the European Commission and was probably the most substantial figure in post-war politics who never became prime minister. Despite that, the SDP won a smattering of seats at the 1983 election. It took over two decades until the party - via a merger and name change - entered government.

A decade after the Limehouse Agreement, anti-Europeans formed what was to become Ukip. In nearly three decades, for the most part they were a statistical blip in opinion polls and the only two parliamentary seats they won were won by existing Members of Parliament.

Ultimately, they got what they wanted though.

This time might be different. Brexit has a huge capacity for economic, and therefore political, disruption in an already volatile environment.

Tories are unwilling to do anything that will move Corbyn a gnat millimetre closer to Downing Street, while five years of government cuts means that Labour MPs are distrustful of the benches opposite.

The fight is now and it is difficult to see how a new party could make an impact. They would struggle in local elections where they would not have a base and Brexit means an end to European elections where those who showed up at the polls felt they had a free vote. How could they get momentum?

There is an element of that old Irish joke: “Follow me, I’m right behind you.”

A large bloc could deprive Corbyn of his status as official leader of the opposition. A new party could then use parliament to show its muscle before it faced an electoral test.

But there is an element of that old Irish joke: “Follow me, I’m right behind you.” Who jumps first? Careerism and the tribal bonds of loyalty have always been an important pull to politicians.

The moment for a new party was when Theresa May drew so many impossible red lines for her negotiation strategy; or when a supposedly doomed Jeremy Corbyn declared that the real fight against Tory Brexit would start sometime after they had achieved it. The need is greater now. The political moment is not there.

For all that it is votes that count not party identity.

The final problem goes beyond party: Remainers may mock the chaos of Brexiters, but their incoherence is almost as great.

What do they really want, to stop Brexit or just to ameliorate its worst impacts? And how can they adopt a persuasive position that unites the Remain tribes and does not rip apart our fragile democracy.

They had better hurry up.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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