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In the brief few months in 2011 when I wrote, very badly, for The Daily Mail, James Chapman was then the paper’s Political Editor and one of the nicest and kindest of all colleagues. It was obvious I wasn’t cut out for the gig I had landed. I was mildly angry about certain aspects of what David Cameron and George Osborne were up to, but not that angry. At the Mail, I was the wrong guy in the wrong movie.
Throughout, James demonstrated with his sense of humour and sensible advice that he is one of the good guys. I still owe him a magnum of Pol Roger bet on me writing that the coalition would collapse in ignominy over Europe or Nick Clegg’s yellow knitted ties or something. Wisely, James said then that the Tory instinct for survival and hunger for power would keep them in the coalition even if David Cameron forced all Tory MPs to wear sandals and Vince Cable t-shirts and swear allegiance to David Steel. The coalition went the distance. James was right. I was wrong.
It is, then, as a fan of James Chapman, and in a spirit of constructive criticism, that I make the following observations about his latest initiative, that is the formation of a new political party to stop Brexit.
Having resigned as chief of staff to David Davis, the Brexit head honcho, James has become an enthusiastic user of social media. He has scaled it up while on holiday with his charming wife in Greece. As someone who frequently over does it on Twitter, I can recognise the symptoms. What starts as a joke, relayed online where irony seems lost on some participants, quickly turns serious.
James started tweeting rather amusingly a few days ago about the need for a new political party to stop Brexit. As an astute political analyst he will know that such a new party would struggle to get off the ground. Brexiteers are not in great shape, but the anti-Brexit forces are hopelessly split. A new anti-Brexit party would begin with a row between those who want to scrap Brexit completely and beg to get back into the EU, and those who want to try to water down Brexit and maybe beg to get back in later (what a choice! what national ambition!).
As a journalist I am very much in favour of an elite new party on the grounds of humour. The spectacle would be a rich source of stories and the annual party conference (held in Islington or Notting Hill?) would be tremendous fun, for hacks, if not for the squabbling new party members having to listen to speeches by Richard Branson, Tony Blair, AC Grayling and Eddie Izzard.
But the joke by James about starting a new party has grown legs. People have picked up the wrong end of the stick and proceeded to beat about the bush with it. Ultra-Remain types across the land are rallying to his standard (not the Evening Standard, now edited by James’s of boss George Osborne) and they love their new leader, James Chapman. They thrill as he taunts the Brexiteers.
By accident, James finds himself at the spearhead of a new political movement. When he gets off the plane from Greece there may be small crowds gathered at the airport, hoping for a glimpse of the leader of anti-Brexit Britain, waiting for his latest thoughts on Euratom and sending Boris Johnson to jail.
What will the new party be called? Hmmmm… James suggests the Democrats, but there are already the unsuccessful US Democrats. And there are the UK Liberal Democrats, who stood at the election to limited effect on a platform of overturning Brexit and branding us Brexiteers as idiots. How about the Chapman faction combining forces with what is left of the Liberal Democrats? Why not copy the Corbynistas and launch a radical anti-Brexit grassroots entryist drive to penetrate the Lib Dems?
This new movement could be called “Lack of Momentum.”