LIKE many Leave supporters I have confidently awaited an electoral pact between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives. The stakes could not be higher. In recent by-elections we saw Peterborough and Brecon & Radnorshire go to Labour and the Lib Dems, despite the combined votes for the Conservatives and the Brexit Party being more in both cases.
The following is obvious to most Brexiteers. A tactical combination of the votes of Conservative and Brexit Party supporters in a forthcoming general election would result in a Conservative Government, perhaps with a Brexit Party complement, and the best – if not only – chance of leaving the EU. But if we are outmanoeuvred by an alliance of Labour, the Lib Dems and Conservative Remain supporters, we will end up with a Labour government and some version of either revoking Article 50 altogether or holding a second referendum.
You’d think the Conservative leadership would want to avoid the latter at all costs. Yet following Nigel Farage’s offer of a pact in a front-page advertisement in Wednesday’s Daily Express and a full-page ad in the Sun, the Conservative Party has confirmed that there will be no co-operation between the two parties.
According to the Times yesterday: ‘Allies of the prime minister attacked Nigel Farage yesterday and said that he should never be allowed “anywhere near government”.’ Adding insult to injury: ‘A senior Conservative source added that Mr Farage was not a “fit and proper” person’. The newspaper then quoted a spokesman for the prime minister saying: ‘The PM will not be doing a deal with Nigel Farage.’
So there we have it. To describe someone as not a fit and proper person is odious in the extreme. The great Conservative philosopher Edmund Burke said: ‘Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them in a great measure, the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarise or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and colour to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them’.
Manners have been in short supply in the public realm in recent years and with the emergence of social media we see ever more polarising rhetoric. The worst of this comes in the form of ‘peak othering’ of other people – there are some baddies on the other side and if we can get rid of them, all will be well. For some reason or other, many Liberals who think of themselves as having good hearts are perfectly happy to engage in peak othering of Conservatives. Some Conservatives seem to think they will win Liberal hearts by joining in.
It is the role of Conservatives everywhere to remember their Burke and, most of all, to remember their manners. Boris needs to be pushed out of the door of No 10 (by Nanny if necessary) and told to apologise quickly and publicly to Nigel Farage for these odious words that are currently circulating, seemingly condoned by the Conservative Party.
Now, as to the rejection of an electoral pact. It is almost impossible to find words. You can only assume that Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson are also stuck in the Westminster and Remainer bubble they complain of. They are seemingly unaware of the overwhelming backing among supporters of both parties for a pact. A YouGov survey found 60 per cent of Tory voters and 70 per cent of Brexit Party backers were keen on the idea.
In the same way they seem unaware that the vast majority of Leave voters couldn’t care less about this or that smear on Nigel Farage, any more than they did about those on Boris. Rather, what they see is a Brexit Party, whether in its selection of candidates, its policy pronouncements to date or its social media presence, that hasn’t put a foot wrong in terms of being anything other than a tolerant, broad-based and, as far as I can make out, social conservative party – which is committed to taking us out of the EU.
I am a card-carrying member of the Conservative Party. I am also a signed-up supporter of the Brexit Party. As Nigel Farage has said, right now we all need to put country before any specific narrow party allegiance.
So now, in my view, two things need to happen. Obviously the best thing would be for the Conservatives to buck up and to agree to some kind of formal or informal alliance. But short of that:
First, the Brexit Party should stick to its course of maximising the chances of Brexit actually happening. If this involves giving the Conservatives a clear run at some seats, so be it. The Brexit Party’s edifying behaviour, in sharp contrast to that of the Conservatives, will be noted.
Secondly, irrespective of the above, Leavers need to organise for themselves. Toby Young argued in the Spectator last week that a grass-roots bottom-up alliance between Brexit Party and Conservative Party supporters could save Brexit: ‘To make this work, supporters of both parties would have to trust the organisation advising them on which way to vote’. But what and where is this ‘advising organisation’?
It matters because there are Leave voters who say they won’t bother to vote again. Only those who have been relentlessly on the campaign trail know how much the doorstep matters, perhaps never so much in our history as now. Without an organisation (maybe Leave Means Leave run by the admirable and highly competent John Longworth would step up to the plate?) that mobilises Leavers as a campaigning force to go back out and make the case for Brexit – for using their vote, if necessary, tactically – door by door by door across the country, the prospect is bleak.
Organisers and foot-soldiers and information; understanding which seats are winnable for Leave, and who is best placed to win them; an ‘app’ whereby campaigners can enter their postcodes to find the nearest constituency in which they could be usefully deployed, along with necessary contact and organisation details – all this is urgently required. Country before party is the message, democracy and respecting the democratic voice of the British people above all else.
Saving Brexit depends on it.