Overturning Zac Goldsmith’s 23,000 majority looks like a disaster for Brexit. Sarah Olney and the Liberal Democrats campaigned on remaining and their leader Tim Farron is crowing that ‘If this was a general election, this swing would mean the Conservatives would lose dozens of seats to the Liberal Democrats – and their majority with it.’ But is he correct?
Let’s assume that a rag-tag alliance between the Liberals and SNP and some Remain Conservatives stops the Government triggering Article 50. Theresa May would have to go to the country for a general election on the issue. What then? Would the Conservatives lose dozens of seats? Not according to YouGov, whose latest research shows that 68 per cent of people think that Britain should go ahead with Brexit.
YouGov predict that in a general election the Conservative Party ‘would win easily, with a much increased margin and probably with a substantially increased majority’. However, they recognise that Farron has a chance of building back Liberal Democrat support – where they are the only party offering a second referendum they are predicted to do well – increasing their support to 19 per cent or 22 per cent.
An election in March would be disruptive for those who voted against Article 50. John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, has suggested that Conservatives would be vulnerable to deselection. Many local associations are pro-Leave and would not look kindly on renegade Remainers who had thwarted their long held aim to leave the EU. Meanwhile deselection of members will also be a hot issue in the Labour Party where more than half of new members want deselection of MPs who “persistently and publicly” criticise Jeremy Corbyn. Which turns out to be a large number – Hillary Benn is of course unfailingly polite in his criticisms but he is on the Momentum list and many others – Jess Phillips who told Diane Abbott to “f*** off”; John Woodcock who described Jeremy Corbyn as a “f*****g disaster” and Tristram Hunt who thought the entire party was “in the shit’ – are under threat.
So, the result in Richmond is good news for the Conservatives. It could auger a general election that will give them a larger majority and longer period to negotiate the exit from Europe.