This morning’s Times (£) brings word of the latest twist in the Tory wars over Europe: James Chapman, until recently a special adviser to David Davis, has called for a new party to block Brexit.
In a series of tweets he called on Conservative Europhiles to make common cause with “sensible MPs in all parties” (he named Chuka Umunna) to defeat the “Brexit jihadis” and prevent “the biggest calamity for our country since WW2”.
This isn’t a new idea, but what really sets bells ringing is that Chapman has a particular name in mind for his new party: “The Democrats”.
Now that name is, as we’ve discussed previously, meaningless and (in the context of the party’s Brexit mission) rather ironic. But its also familiar, because we’ve heard this plan before: it’s George Osborne’s plan. George Eaton revealed in the New Statesman that the former Chancellor had pitched the idea to Tim Farron after the referendum.
That puts an important bit of context on Chapman’s intervention, because prior to serving Davis he used to spad for none other than… Osborne.
Beyond the debate about whether a new party would succeed (probably not), this poses another question: is Chapman acting alone, reviving an old idea from an old boss after the frustrations of serving in DExEU? Or is this intervention a sign that the Evening Standard editor hasn’t abandoned the project?
Notwithstanding the likely insurmountable difficulties a new party set up to reverse Brexit would face, it might still provide Osborne with a more plausible route back to front line politics than the Conservatives after his paper’s attacks on the party. And the prospect of working side-by-side with Tony Blair, whom he and David Cameron dubbed “the Master”, must appeal.
Even if he isn’t involved in Chapman’s outburst, the latter will have known that it wouldn’t take long for people to look up his CV and put two and two together. Might he be trying to prompt his former boss to take up the role of ‘King over the Water’ for what Isabel Hardman has dubbed ‘Parliament’s new tribe‘ – Anna Soubry’s band of New Labour holdouts, Europhile Tories, and separatists?
We can’t know for certain which it is, at least not yet. But the usual fate of new parties in British politics suggests that either way, Osborne would be well advised to hold on to the day jobs.