On Friday February 9th a new political party was launched in the UK: the Democrats & Veterans Party. The new group is pro-Brexit, supports direct democracy, and (somewhat contradictorily) is very keen on allegiance to the Queen. One of the first acts of the D & V party was to acclaim former-UKIP candidate John Rees Evans as their leader. Rees Evans accepted, making this the fourth pro-Brexit party he has been associated with within a mere five months. Blimey!
If not leading UKIP, leaving UKIP
John Rees Evans is in strong demand among fledgling right-wing populist parties, but it was not always thus. Not so long ago he was a medium-sized fish in the UKIP pond, but ambitious for change and a leadership role.
After a relatively strong performance in the 2015 general election as a candidate for the Cardiff South and Penarth constituency (with 13.8% of the vote), Rees Evans made a bold move for the UKIP leadership in 2016 after Nigel Farage’s resignation. Despite being a relative newcomer to the UKIP limelight, he came in a very respectable third with 18% of the vote.
Following UKIP’s disastrous performance in the 2017 election, and Paul Nuttal’s subsequent resignation from the leadership, Rees Evans made his second bid for the top job within a year. This time he came in fourth in a tight race.
On the same day that Rees Evans’ 2017 leadership bid failed, a new pro-Brexit political party was registered: Affinity. Like Rees Evans, Affinity was pro-Brexit and in favour of direct democracy. According to an article by James Dalton on the UKIP Daily website, Rees Evans had been in talks with the Affinity founders on the quiet for over a year at this point. One of Affinity’s first (and only, so far) public acts was to name Rees Evans “Spokesman for Liberty” of the party.
John Rees Evans may have been sneaking around on UKIP, but according to another tiny pro-Brexit fledgling party, he had been sneaking around on them as well.
ENGAGE (originally known as the Demos Direct Initiative Party) are another new UK registered political party that supports Brexit and direct democracy. And like Affinity, they were also expecting John Rees Evans to leave UKIP to be their party’s first leader. In a curious statement on the party website it says:
“ENGAGE originally started of [sic] as DDIP – Demos Direct Initiative Party and was initially created as a fall back solution should John Rees Evans fail in his endeavours to implement Direct Democracy in UKIP. However, when it came to it, for whatever reasons JRE decided to go with another new party idea called Affinity. We were not overly joyed [sic] about this as we had wasted a year waiting for him but in politics you are never far from the next disappointment.”
Enter the Democrats & Veterans Party
By the start of 2018, there was a third new pro-Brexit party supporting direct democracy: the Democrats & Veterans Party, chaired by war hero and Military Cross recipient Trevor Coult.
Affinity took the news of their jilting rather better than ENGAGE had. They even appear to be hinting at a future merger with the Democrats & Veterans. On a statement on the party Facebook page it says:
“The appointments made public last year i.e., John Rees-Evans (as Spokesman for Liberty) and Gavin Felton (as Trustee for Field Campaigns) have come to an end. Both John and Gavin, with others, have been busy setting up another political party called Democrats and Veterans Party that they hope will ‘fill the gap’ (in terms of democratic activity and support for our veterans) with what is required to be done between now, and what Affinity will start doing a little later on. For the months that follow, both parties will co-exist with identical core objectives. Affinity wishes all those involved in DVP well. It’s a jolly good cause. It deserves support.”
Public image goofs galore by Democrats & Veterans
Of the three nascent right-wing groups vying for John Rees Evans’ leadership, the Democrats & Veterans seem to be the best organized. They have a reasonably professional website, claim to have 321 candidates ready to stand in the next election, and an online store that sells mugs and tee shirts. But image-wise, the party is experiencing some real challenges.
First off is the party’s abbreviation, D&V – a term commonly known in the UK to stand for ‘diarrhoea and vomiting.’ When the BBC questioned the party about the unfortunate connotations of their Twitter handle, “@DandVParty,” a spokesman said the choice of name was deliberate and it was a reference to current politics “making them sick.”
Party chairman Gavin Felton then said: “It’s all tongue in cheek, we’re ex-squaddies so we know what it means and knew it was going to come up. We have a sense of humour. Politics is a serious business but there’s a severe lack of humour.”
But the bigger issue is the party logo, which appears to be a donkey holding a Union flag while standing on a hilltop. Newly appointed leader John Rees Evans famously claimed that a “homosexual donkey” tried to rape one of his horses. The bizarre claim, which he later regretted, was made to a political activist and caught on camera. After it was posted on YouTube it made world-wide headlines.
When the party logo was revealed as Rees Evans was named leader, the media immediately made the connection and a slew of mocking stories ensued – all predictable and preventable.
Why a donkey?
The Democrats & Veterans leadership should have spotted the impending PR disaster of a party logo with a donkey on it, but that still leaves the question of why have a donkey in the first place?
Many journalists, including some from the New European, have assumed it is a reference to the Democrats in America, whose symbol is a donkey.
In an interview with the Military Times, party founder Trevor Coult explains that the animal in the logo is not in fact a donkey. Or does he. It is not clear.
He said, “As for the party’s logo, the donkey depicts a workhorse and the hilltop it stands on depicts the Brecon Beacons where much of the British Armed Forces trains.”
Workhorses, also known as draft horses, are a breed of strong, hard working horses. But they are definitely not donkeys, and donkeys are definitely not workhorses. Which one is depicted on the logo?
The D&V Party manifesto includes an image of an animal munching on grass, and it is clearly a donkey and not a workhorse. So, although the choice of animal is clear, the reason behind the choice remains shrouded in mystery.
After an abysmal start in the public relations war, things can only improve for the Democrats & Veterans Party. We will watch with interest!
Editor’s note: In a comment on Facebook, Engage party leader Marty Caine made it clear that he also wishes the Democrats & Veterans the best of luck with their endeavours. Also, following his comment we have changed the description of Engage from “a second new UK registered political party that supports Brexit,” to “another new UK registered political party that supports Brexit.”