Sunday, November 17, 2019
Home Brexit Watch The most important election since 1945 – and the most unpredictable

The most important election since 1945 – and the most unpredictable

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I SAW why some Brexiteers will vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party when I read in the Daily Mail that Boris Johnson is not going to mention the possibility of a no-deal in the Conservative manifesto. 

This may be good tactics as far as his Parliamentary party and some Lib Dems are concerned, but the threat of leaving with no deal has to remain. Much more alarmingly, Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan told the Times: ‘If you vote Conservative at this election, you’re voting to leave with this deal, and no-deal has been effectively been taken off the table.’ 

She is not standing again, and when she was a backbencher (Mrs May didn’t give her a job) she repeatedly rebelled to stop a no-deal Brexit and warned of its ‘damaging’ economic impact. I hope, therefore, she does not have authority for saying no-deal is off the table. Words like hers are anathema to a lot of people, including me.

Nevertheless, I still think that people who want to leave the EU should vote Tory and hope the Tories will negotiate a good deal, using leaving with no deal as a threat.

Brexit was little mentioned in the 2017 election. All parties backed it, because they respected the referendum result, though Mr Corbyn contrived to give both Leavers up north and Remainers down south the impression that he was on their side. But the authority of that result is weakened with every day that goes by. If the Tories do not have an absolute majority in this election it will be seen, unfairly, as a vote against Brexit.

Before Nigel Farage announced he would field candidates in every constituency in Great Britain unless Boris Johnson were prepared to form a Brexit Alliance, Thursday’s YouGov poll gave the Conservatives 36 per cent, Labour 21 per cent, Lib Dem 18 per cent and the Brexit party 13 per cent. YouGov’s Anthony Wells said Farage’s decision could cost the Conservatives the election and that it was impossible to tell how many seats the Brexit Party would cost the Tories: ‘We shouldn’t forget that it is the Remain vote that is really split.’ 

Leavers should not be reassured by that. The split Remain vote is the biggest danger for the Tories and for Brexit. If people for whom remaining in the UK is the most important issue vote tactically, as they will do, it is possible that they will deny the Tories a majority and thereby make a second referendum inevitable.

I was probably unfair to Boris when I said he could have achieved Brexit without an election. He certainly wanted an election from the moment he became Prime Minister, despite saying he did not, and it might be that he could have got his WAB (Withdrawal Agreement Bill) through Parliament, as Kenneth Clarke said, but it is also very possible that he could not have got it through intact. Philip Hammond in particular intended to sink it by amending it to require the UK to stay in a customs union with the EU. 

James Forsyth argues: ‘His loss on the Brexit programme motion last week was a clear indication that he could not have got a clean Bill through the Commons. If he had persisted down this route, he would have been left with the unappetising choice of either pulling the Bill or accepting amendments that were designed to undercut the changes he had secured.’

Had Sir Oliver Letwin, with exasperatingly typical clever silliness, not stopped the Prime Minister in his tracks and broken his momentum, the UK might indeed have left the EU on the 31st. This suggests to me that Boris is capable of being a remarkable Prime Minister, as remarkable as Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher. But he now has to win an unpredictable election.

At least electors this time will understand why an election has been called, unlike in 2017. Unlike Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn then, Boris Johnson and Mr Corbyn are known quantities. All will depend on tactical voting.

Three politicians arguably have transformed the UK since 1945 more than any others, even Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher. Edward Heath, who took the UK into the EEC, Nigel Farage, without whom the Brexit referendum would never have happened, and Alex Salmond, who almost made Scotland an independent country.

All political careers end in failure, as Enoch Powell said, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs, but some end in greater failure than most. Mr Salmond goes on trial in January on alleged sexual assault charges. Mr Farage, by promising to put up candidates in every seat in the country unless Boris gives up on his deal, has become the Remain camp’s last best hope.

His proposal for a free trade agreement has much to be said for it but it would never get through any House of Commons one can imagine being elected. The UK does not have proportional representation in elections. In my opinion the Brexit Party will not win even one seat, let alone 320, but it could prevent the Tories from winning and Brexit from happening. Though in response to that critique Mr Farage asserts that Boris’s deal is not Brexit.

Richard North explains Farage’s stance is an example of ‘groupthink’, the subject of Christopher Booker’s last book which he is completing. A book on groupthink is badly needed. It explains a great deal about political obsessions, whether the danger to Europe from Vladmir Putin, climate change, transgender or an array of other things. People who believe that mass migration from the Third to First World is a good thing for everybody do not do so because of any rational process, which explains why so many intelligent people do so.

Pollsters predict that Mr Farage and his party may have little chance of impacting on the Conservatives. Andrew Hawkins of ComRes: ‘As long as Mr Farage’s outfit did not rise much above 10 per cent, taking votes away from the Tories in the process, Mr Johnson would still be in a good position to win an overall majority in December.’ Only time will tell. This really is the most important election since 1945 and the most unpredictable.

Incidentally, Boris might become the first Prime Minister to lose his seat in Parliament and the first Tory leader to do so since A J Balfour in 1906. Jo Swinson, who has a very small majority, might follow the precedents of Asquith and Sir Archibald Sinclair in losing hers.

Britain is, however, stuck with Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon.

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Paul Wood
Paul Wood
Writer.

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