Boris Johnson should accept Farage’s overtures and let the Brexit Party wreak havoc in Labour’s heartlands

Boris Johnson should accept Farage’s overtures and let the Brexit Party wreak havoc in Labour’s heartlands

In the wake of Gina Miller’s website launch encouraging tactical voting among Remainers to oust the Tories, it is time for Brexiteers to put country before respective parties and do the same. Over the past week, there has been speculation that when Nigel Farage launches the Brexit Party election campaign today, he might announce that the party will focus its efforts on between 20 and 40 Labour-held constituencies.

Such a decision could be a monumental moment in this election campaign and may take us one step closer to ensuring the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are yet to indicate that this could be a reciprocal agreement, potentially to the detriment of the Brexit cause.

The choice in my eurosceptic, Tory county of Essex is simple: vote Boris for Brexit. However, the political dynamics across the Labour heartlands are different. There is vehement opposition to the Tories which dates back at least to the deindustrialisation of the 1980s. Just last week the BBC’s Question Time programme was in South Shields, which voted 62.1% in favour of leaving the European Union, yet one of the loudest rounds of applause came after a gentleman confronted former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont, on the economic legacy that Margaret Thatcher left in the North East. In seats like these, there is no chance that the Conservatives will ever win. The only politician with significant appeal there is Nigel Farage, with the most recent Opinium poll finding that Leave voters who backed Corbyn in 2017 were almost twice as likely to vote for the Brexit Party in December than the Conservatives.

There are 164 constituencies across England and Wales which voted to Leave the EU in 2016, but which in 2017 or subsequent by-elections have elected MPs who are now hell-bent on ignoring their constituents’ decision. Many of these, like Workington, will be in the cross-hairs of the Conservatives pollsters in CCHQ. Some 44 seats require a possible swing of 5% or less to the Conservatives for them to take the seat, where it would be foolish for the Brexit Party to stand and inadvertently hand the keys of power to Jeremy Corbyn. By refusing to stand in these seats – and vulnerable seats held by the Conservatives, like Thurrock, Chingford and Woodford Green and even possibly Uxbridge and South Ruislip – the Brexit Party will be taking one leap closer to independence.

However, this still leaves dozens of constituencies across the North of England, Midlands and Wales that will never vote Conservative. Many of these are beacons of socialism, whether that be the Tyneside town of Jarrow, infamous for its crusade to the Commons in 1936, or Keir Hardie’s former seat of Merthyr Tydfil, or even Hull East, a seat that has returned Labour MPs at every election since 1935.

Yet it is in precisely these constituencies where Nigel Farage can not only help Boris Johnson keep Jeremy Corbyn out of power but also redraw the political landscape by ending Labour’s dominance in their traditional heartlands. Farage was a thorn in the side of Labour in these areas before, with notable successes with UKIP at the 2014 European election and, somewhat, at the 2015 General Election.

At the 2019 European election there were 30 seats where the Brexit Party took over 40% of the vote and where the swing needed for the Tories to gain the seat is unobtainable. Could Farage’s party win them in December? Possibly. But Boris Johnson will have to stand down his troops to give them a chance. A prime target for the Brexit Party would be Barnsley Central, for example. Labour’s current majority over the Conservatives is an enormous 40%. Despite this, the Brexit Party topped the poll in May, with a sizeable lead of just under 30%.

Nevertheless, the possible advantages for the Conservatives entering such an agreement are even more significant. Not only would Farage create chaos for Corbyn, but it would also bolster the standing of Conservatives hoping to retain vulnerable seats, or indeed contest marginals. In Thurrock the Conservatives currently have a small majority of 345 votes; if the Brexit Party are left to stand, then there may be a repeat of the 2015 General Election with a three-way split between the Conservatives, Labour and a Farage-led party, with just two percentage points separating first and third. Risking defeat in seats like that is not sensible as a defeat could mean that Brexit is lost altogether. Furthermore, given that two-thirds of vulnerable Conservative seats and marginals they need to gain voted to leave, there could be a sizeable enough vote for Farage’s party to let Labour gain or hold the seats.

Critics of electoral pacts within the Conservative Party often claim that they are unsuccessful in British political history. I dispute such a claim. Historically speaking the Lib-Lab Pact in 1906 that defeated the Conservative Party was arguably the most successful, short-term political means of removing the governing party. But once removed, the Tories reclaimed their foothold in British politics. When comparing the results from the 1906 and 1910 elections, a constituency of interest is the industrial, Northern town of Gateshead. In 1906, the Lib-Lab candidate had a 4,000-vote lead over their Conservative counterpart, but once the agreement broke down the Liberals’ majority shrank to around 400 votes.

Finally, this pact is essential because we are about to embark on the messiest campaign in modern times. There is speculation in The Guardian that the so-called Remain Alliance of the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru have discussed continuing their agreement that fared so well in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, where Jo Swinson’s party managed to gain a Leave-voting constituency. At the time James Cleverly, now Conservative Party Chairman, accused Jo Swinson of ‘dirty backroom deals’; rather than complain, we must fight fire with fire.#

Had Brexiteers fought fire with fire in Brecon, they would have prevailed over the Remainers. A Remain Alliance on a national scale could be formed, and in the words of Sir Ed Davey, it could be used to ‘decapitate’ Boris Johnson, but Jo Swinson has also talked about talking other prominent Brexiteers like the Somerset-based Jacob Rees-Mogg and Dominic Raab, who represents a Remain-voting Surrey seat.

Therefore, not forming an electoral pact is a risk, and a risk not worth taking. Many Tories have previously said that Farage is not a ‘fit and proper person’ with whom to enter a pact, and in the Cameron years they even claimed Farage’s party was full of ‘fruitcakes and loonies’. However, if the Conservatives want an electoral future, which is somewhat dependent on their ability to deliver Brexit, they must do a deal.

Farage may yet have the last laugh over many of his critics in the Tory Party for he has the potential to become the Tories’ kingmaker when he was once the court jester. However, if the Tories persist in rejecting the Brexit Party’s overtures, then they risk handing the keys of power to Jeremy Corbyn and subsequently gambling with our Union, our economy, the future of their own party and Brexit itself – which would kill off any faith that the British peoples have left in our democratic process.

In my view the 30 seats that the Brexit Party must target are:

  1. Hartlepool
  2. Kingston upon Hull East
  3. Redcar
  4. Barnsley East
  5. Doncaster North
  6. Bolsover
  7. Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford
  8. Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle
  9. Wentworth and Dearne
  10. Barnsley Central
  11. Sheffield South East
  12. Don Valley
  13. Houghton and Sunderland South
  14. Stockton North
  15. Hemsworth
  16. Blyth Valley
  17. Durham North
  18. Makerfield
  19. Alyn and Deeside
  20. Sedgefield
  21. Leigh
  22. Wolverhampton North East
  23. Doncaster Central
  24. Jarrow
  25. Middlesbrough
  26. South Shields
  27. Washington and Sunderland West
  28. Delyn
  29. Stoke on Trent Central
  30. Blaydon

All of these seats have comfortable Labour leads over the Tories of 10% or more. The average Labour lead is around 24%. However, in the European elections of May this year, the Brexit Party won between 40.1% and 52.7% of the vote, with an average lead of 27% over the Labour Party.

Therefore, these constituencies are not winnable for the Tories and have a proven electoral base for Farage. Even when looking at the UKIP voteshare in 2015, these seats averaged 21% and in many of the seats UKIP outperformed the Conservatives and displaced them to take second place.