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  1. Politics
12 April 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 1:37pm

The Brexit Party says more about David Cameron than Nigel Farage

By Patrick Maguire

Nigel Farage launched the Brexit Party, the new Eurosceptic outfit set up to fight next month’s European Parliament elections, in Coventry this morning. But the former Ukip leader shared the platform with an even bigger name: Annunziata Rees-Mogg. 

Rees-Mogg, a journalist, is among 70 candidates running for Farage’s new outfit and was the first announced at this morning’s launch. As is obvious from her name, she is sister to Tory MP Jacob. 

For that reason her candidature is a cute stunt – the sort of wheeze that provided Farage’s Ukip with such valuable momentum and press attention in its pomp. There is, however, a much deeper significance. 

Rees-Mogg, as she told her audience in Coventry this morning, is a lifelong Conservative member and sometime parliamentary candidate. In 2010 she narrowly failed to win Somerton and Frome, the next-door constituency to her elder brother’s, having run in the Labour stronghold of Aberavon in 2005.

That fact would not be particularly remarkable – plenty of former Tories have wound up as members of Ukip – were it not for the fact of her provenance as a serious contender for parliament, which came via David Cameron’s A-List (Rees-Mogg refused to heed requests to run under the shortened name Nancy Mogg). 

150-strong and centrally controlled, the A-List was the means by which Cameron, then leader of the opposition, sought to transform the Conservative Party’s Commons cohort into a collective that vaguely resembled 21st Century Britain. Theresa May was among those who drew it up. Selections were the method, the object was to change the soul.

Tory associations in plum marginals – like Rees-Mogg’s – were obliged to pick their candidates from the list and it did, to a certain extent, succeed in its aim of blooding MPs who looked like Bernard Jenkin and Francis Maude. Think of a Conservative minister and chances are that they came from the A-List too: Steve Barclay, Karen Bradley, Andrea Leadsom, Liz Truss, Amber Rudd.

Yet this year the list has become remarkable for its explosive failures. Anna Soubry and Nick Boles, both devout Cameroons, have both left a Conservative Party that they believe looks and sounds less as Cameron and indeed May once hoped it would. Philip Lee and Sam Gymiah quit ministerial jobs on similar grounds. For Remainers, the Tories – as May said in 2002 – are once more the nasty party. Unrepentant, just plain unattractive. 

Rees-Mogg’s departure proves a similar point, as do the career trajectories of other recognisable Leave names on the A-List: Esther McVey and Priti Patel. Brexit is destroying the big tent that David Cameron built and, strikingly, serious damage is being done on both flanks. The Brexit Party might flop next month, as might the Independent Group. But its star candidates are a sign that whatever the outcome, the Conservatives are again in the unhappy state May described 17 years ago. Its base increasingly looks too narrow, and so are its members’ sympathies for it.

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