Have Leavers just blown their best chance of Brexit in a subconscious sort of way, because deep down, they never really wanted it? Matthew Parris makes this case in a typically eloquent Spectator column this week. He might be right, but they have not blown it quite so badly as Remainers have.
Imagine how events would have turned out this week had the great mythical new political party of the centre actually existed – if it had an organisational structure ready to pounce on its big opportunity, along with a smattering of MPs of other parties ready to jump ship. Imagine if, in the 24 hours between the Brexit vote and the no-confidence vote, it had suddenly risen, serpent-like. It wouldn’t have taken many Tory defectors to tear up their party cards, declare that the Conservatives were under the control of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his demented Brexiteer chums who would do anything to achieve a catastrophic no-deal Brexit, and that the only way forward now was for a new political party of the centre, uniting the likes of Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston with Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper. A gang of ten Conservative defectors is all it would have taken, and Mrs May would have been finished. But first she would have been forced to fight an election she had said she wouldn’t fight — a fractious party being unable to replace her in time for polling day. The unappetising alternative for voters would have been a Labour leader who has no clue what he wants over Brexit, just that he wants the chance to construct a utopian socialist dreamworld.
Look at how Emmanuel Macron built an entire political party and led it to power in a matter of months, blowing aside conservatives and socialists in the process. Was there not a chance of doing the same in Britain? Could Remainers not envisage Prime Minister Chuka walking up Downing Street to cheering crowds of Remain supporters, waving from the steps of Number 10 and, as the jubilant wailing died down momentarily, announcing to the EU flag-wavers: ‘my first act will be to write a letter to Mr Tusk to inform him that the UK government is withdrawing Article 50’ before being drowned out in London’s loudest outpouring of joy since Mafeking?
Could they heck. The reason Remainers in parliament could not see the opportunity that was briefly presented to them is because theirs is naturally a conservative position. They want to stay in the EU because we are in the EU. They don’t want to risk the short-term disruption which would accompany Brexit – never mind a no-deal Brexit – because they would rather live with the devil they know. All the potential negative consequences of Brexit are to them very real and livid things which threaten next quarter’s GDP figure; all claimed benefits, such as the freedom to do trade deals with the rest of the world, cut ourselves loose from overbearing regulation to create a faster-growth economy are to Remainers, illusory. It says much that among the business supporters of the Remain campaign were the grey corporate men, the Lord Roses of this world, whose careers have been forged steering long-established behemoths like Marks & Spencer away from the rocks, while the Leave side had genuine entrepreneurs, the James Dysons who have built businesses from scratch by taking risks with their own money.
Unsurprisingly a group of people who are self-defined by their native conservatism – Remain supporters – turned out to be too reserved to take a once-in-a-century chance to undertake a successful UK political start-up. The price of their failure may now be to watch in agony as we drift towards no deal – while the new party’s potential MPs see themselves smoked out of their political homes by either Jeremy Corbyn or Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The great mythical party of the centre never got as far as having a name. Can I suggest one for it? Given the emotional inclinations of the people who should have should have been setting it up, why not call it the Conservative party? If that has not already been taken.