There are two parties campaigning for the Leave vote in the upcoming December 12 elections, both of whom will are willing to undermine each other’s credibility.
Nigel Farage is no longer leading the biggest of the two Brexit parties, but his party still polls 10% and could undermine the Conservative effort to win over Labour seats in the North of England. On Friday, Farage extended to Boris Johnson the offer of an electoral pact, that is, if he was willing to abandon the deal negotiated in Brussels and leave without a deal.
“Drop the deal because it is not Brexit; drop the deal because as weeks go by and people discover what it is you will have signed up, they will not like it,” Farage said. On Thursday evening, US President Donald Trump called on Johnson to drop the deal and join Farage to form “an unstoppable force.”
Johnson rejected the Farage’s ultimatum and he will now find his “get Brexit done” message undermined in all 650 seats. The Brexit party secured 31% in the European elections, coming first. Although Farage has never won a seat in legislative elections, he could significantly erode the Conservative vote.
On Sunday, Farage announced that he would not personally run as a candidate and would instead run up and down the country supporting his 600 candidates.
Johnson campaigned for the leadership of the Conservative party on the promise he would be willing to leave the EU without a deal; he promised to deliver Brexit by October 31st or “die in a ditch”; he is now promising to “get Brexit done” by January 31, if he commands the majority.
That is a tall order.
The Tories held 298 out of 650 seats in the current parliament. They had to work with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to secure a majority.
In 2017, Theresa May held on to the right of the Conservative party as well as moderates who wanted to leave the EU with a deal or no Brexit at all. Going for a clearer position on Brexit, Johnson has lost a number of moderate MPs who are either leaving politics or crossing over to Liberal Democrats.
The latest to leave politics is culture Minister Nicky Morgan. He has lost the charismatic leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, and he is unlikely to be able to defend all 13 Scottish MPs her brand of conservative politics could fetch in Scotland. Johnson is finding out that as many as 50 MPs are no longer willing to campaign for a Conservative party under his leadership, including Ken Clarke, former attorney general Dominic Grieve, Rory Stewart, and the Speaker of the House, John Bercow.
What’s more Dominic Grieve is accusing the prime minister of hiding a parliamentary report that provides evidence of Russian influence in the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum and 2017 general elections. The report was the product of parliamentary hearings with GCHQ, MI5 and MI6. Naturally, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn echoed Grieve’s call for the publication of the report, asking what the government “have got to hide.”
Brushing aside talks of Russia and the need to keep the Conservative Party a “broad church,” Johnson is planning a purely Brexit campaign. Rather than appealing to the traditional Conservative voters alone, he is targeting North of England Labour constituencies that voted Leave.
In addressing new voters, Johnson is introducing a new narrative. Taking his cue from the red bus pledge to stop spending money on the EU and more on the NHS, Johnson is running a tax-and-spend campaign, which is more part of the labour than the Conservative brand.
Think tank Resolution Foundation said on Monday that both Labour and the Conservatives were planning big increases in the size of the state. According to their report, should the Conservatives hold on to current levels of spending, public spending as a share of the economy would reach 41.3% by 2023-4, compared to the 37.4% average since 2007-8.