One of the most mystifying and depressing aspects of the whole Brexit saga since the referendum is the supine way the vast majority of Tory MPs have accepted the catastrophic leadership of Theresa May: dogs that didn’t bark in the night-time, the daytime or any hours in between. Even those who have a jaundiced opinion of the party are flummoxed. Don’t they see they risk annihilation? Are they really so mediocre that they cannot see past next week or the next mortgage payment, or just stupidly complacent in believing that Britain could never really vote for Corbyn, even after last year’s election debacle? What about their slighted, dwindling activists, who are apoplectic with rage? For months we have been constantly told that the magic ’48 letters’ threshold is on the verge of being reached, but it appears that the mutineers are finding it hard to reach that number even now.
Well, this should concentrate a few minds:
Westminster voting intentiomn:
LAB: 39% (+2)
CON: 36% (-5)
UKIP: 8% (+2)
LDEM: 7% (-1)
GRN: 3% (-)
via @OpiniumReseach, 14 Nov
Chgs. w/ 11 Oct
— Britain Elects (@britainelects) November 17, 2018
YouGov found that the British public want Theresa May to stand down as Prime Minister by 47-33 per cent. An even clearer majority of Leave voters want her gone, by 55-33 per cent. The general public, regardless of how they voted at the referendum, do not think the current deal respects the result, by 28-45 per cent.
The Tories are crashing, rapidly losing ground to Red Labour. Just as ominously, UKIP, down to 1 per cent in the polls eight months ago, have climbed back into third place with 8 per cent – and that is without the charismatic leadership of Nigel Farage, who threatens to return if Brexit is unimplemented.
The enormous danger for the Tories is that if they don’t act very soon, they risk strongly reinforcing the central political fact that the issue of ‘Europe’ has revealed: that the professional wing of the party is selfish, reactive and low-agency, and only does anything remotely conservative when threatened from its right flank. Right-wing pundits are slowly coming around to the reality that it has always been a blank slate ideologically and has not just temporarily lost its way. Already dangerously depleted, disgusted activists will continue to shun the Tories, realising that to get anything conservative done their energies are better spent elsewhere.
That same process of reinforcement would, of course, work on the voting public. The Westminster bubble hailed the last election as evidence that two-party politics had returned, but a betrayal of Brexit on the scale currently envisaged would surely smash the political mould for ever.
Contrary to what many in the Remain Establishment or the likes of Theresa May believe, voters are neither cowardly nor stupid, and expect to be respected. They are far more likely to forgive the party the idiocy of the past two years if it now elects a real leader who is honest about the situation and leads them through the short-term ruction of a WTO Brexit: as Remembrance Day shows us every year, they are very well aware that their forebears went through much, much worse to defend freedom, and would be extremely insulted by a party which thought them not up to a fraction of that challenge. Nor will they forgive a party that is seen to act out of expediency, even if it delivered a clean Brexit through accident or fear, still less if it delivered anything like Theresa May’s atrocious deal.
Intellectually, psephologically and demographically, the stage is set for the eclipse of the Tory party as an election-winning force. If it is to survive, the party now has to do something it has always been loath to: electing as leader someone with daring, passion and conviction, who truly believes in Brexit – which really means believing in the British people – and doing it now. It is either that or humiliating, remorseless extinction.