This week, a former-adviser to David Davis called Brexit a catastrophe and said pro-Remain politicians should form a new party. Could "the Democrats" succeed in the UK and keep Britain in the EU? Max Liu reports...
"Anything can happen, the tallest towers/ Be overturned, those in high places daunted/ Those overlooked regarded." These words, from Seamus Heaney's poem "Anything Can Happen", popped into my head on April 18 this year, the day Theresa May called the general election and vowed to "crush the saboteurs" of hard Brexit. I was weighing up the chances of Labour, who were then as many as 20 points behind in the polls, winning the election. As we know, Labour didn't win but they did achieve an extraordinary result which transformed the electoral map of Britain and deprived May of her majority.
The UK general election took place on June 8, only one month after Emmanuel Macron, standing for the newly-formed En Marche party, had won an emphatic victory to become French President. It was just over six months since Americans stunned the world by electing Donald Trump as their President and less than a year since 52% of Brits voted to leave the European Union. In this day and age, it certainly feels like "anything can happen."
And yet when commentators and politicians talk about a new party forming in Britain - as they did again this week - the idea still sounds implausible and unlikely to get off the ground. Why? Because we're a cautious and conservative people, without the revolutionary heritage of the Americans or French? Possibly, but you could argue that the result of the Brexit referendum, and Jeremy Corbyn's recent success, has dispelled that myth.
The latest bout of new party talk has come about because James Chapman, a former-adviser to Brexit secretary David Davis, this week called Brexit a "catastrophe" and called for "sensible MPs" in all parties to come together in a new party - "The Democrats" - and reverse Brexit. In a series of attention-grabbing tweets, Chapman said he wants a second Brexit referendum in 2019. A second referendum is currently [5.6] 125350912 to happen before 2019, although Betfair's new market on a second referendum by 2020 is worth looking at if you believe Chapman might get his way.
Who would join Chapman's new party? Former-Labour leadership candidate David Miliband, who today calls for a second Brexit referendum, is one possible figurehead, as is former-Tory chancellor George Osborne, for whom Chapman previously worked. Perhaps the Tories Anna Soubry and Labour's Chuka Umunna would pitch in. MPs have enough trouble displaying party loyalty at the best of times, so it's difficult to envisage politicians who previously sniped at each other across the House of Commons uniting over this single issue for very long.
The obvious precedent from recent history for a new centrist party is the SDP which was formed by Labour MPs who believed their party had become too left-wing under Michael Foot in the 1980s. The SDP's poor performance at the 1983 and '87 elections showed how difficult the UK electoral system makes it for a new party to break the main parties' dominance, and the SDP eventually merged with the Lib Dems in 1988. Add to this the fact that 82% of votes were won by the Conservative and Labour parties at last election, and new leader Vince Cable's determination to make the Lib Dems the anti-Brexit party, and it's hard to see what real scope there is for a new party.
Jacob Rees Mogg for next Conservative leader?
One of Chapman's best tweets was the one in which he said Boris Johnson should be jailed for his lies during the referendum campaign. There are plenty of us who would vote for that. The Foreign Secretary is now out to [10.0] to be the next Conservative leader. He's been overtake in the past month or so by Jacob Rees Mogg who, according to reports in newspapers this weekend, plans to stand for the leadership as soon as May steps down.
Hard-line Brexiteer Rees-Mogg is [6.2] second favourite behind Davis [5.5]. Like Johnson, Rees-Mogg has taken the Have I Got News For You route to prominence, appearing on TV and inviting people to mock him for his antiquated aristocratic persona. He's probably more right-wing than Johnson but no less cynical and perhaps equally ambitious. Jacob Rees Mogg for next Tory leader? Anything can happen.