Peter Hitchens, a patron saint of TCW, is the author of one of my favourite political metaphors: he described the Tory and Labour Parties as two crumbling pillars holding each other up. Each party was sustained only by the hatred its tribal supporters had for the other: the collapse of one would inevitably lead to the collapse of the other.
After the EU referendum campaign, Hitchens repeated his belief, but in more macabre terms, describing the parties as two corpses supporting each other by virtue of their rigor mortis. He then expanded on his gothic theme, suggesting that their replacements had risen in ‘ghostly fashion’, represented by the Leave and Remain campaigns.
The coronation of Theresa May means the Tories have essentially become Remain. They will now implement something like the strategy I outlined last week, hoovering up the affluent urban middle classes with broadly liberal views. Brexit will formally occur, but only in a crippled form that does not threaten the vested interests of the establishment. Those disappointed that the Tories has squandered the chance of becoming Leave by taking a bold, visionary stance on Brexit misunderstand the party: it has never knowingly elevated radicals to leadership: most Tory MPs preferred Halifax to Churchill in 1940, and Thatcher was elected as leader essentially by mistake.
So if Hitchens’s metaphor holds true, who will become Leave? Now that Labour has not just departed planet Earth but reside somewhere on the dark side of the moon, there is a golden opportunity for Ukip, providing the party can unite under a leader that can fill Nigel Farage’s shoes.
Probably the best person qualified is Steven Woolfe. Hailing from a working class northern background and of mixed ethnic heritage, the sharp-suited ex-City lawyer is ideally placed to appeal both to the Labour heartlands and to more middle class voters. Crucially, he is thought to be Farage’s man, which means he is almost certain to have the approval of Ukip’s major financial backer, Aaron Banks, who recently promised a “Ukip on steroids” if Theresa May was elected Tory leader.
If Ukip does seize this opportunity, then in time – and it will take time – politics will have come full circle, with a Tory party acting to conserve a metropolitan liberal establishment at bay against socially conservative insurgents.
Hitchens’ two phantom parties, Leave and Remain, are slowly assuming corporeal form. Let battle commence.