Here’s the deal on candidates that Boris Johnson should do with Nigel Farage today

Here’s the deal on candidates that Boris Johnson should do with Nigel Farage today

Following Monday’s announcement by Nigel Farage that he would not stand candidates in the 317 seats won by the Conservatives in 2017 (including my own, Rutland and Melton), the first YouGov poll taken since that announcement shows the Tories clearing 40% for the first time since the Brexit Party was established.

Interviewed on the BBC on Tuesday, Nigel Farage said, and I quote: “I would have expected, having put country before party, to perhaps have got something back from the Conservatives. But no, nothing is good enough for them. It is clear to me it is not a Leave majority they want in Parliament, it is just a Tory one.” And the Brexit Party Leader has a point.

It’s worth taking a look, again, at the 2017 General Election results. If we assume that the 317 Tory-held seats are now safe then that leaves a grand total of 333 theoretically in play (332 if we exclude the Speaker’s seat, Chorley). Of these, 262 were Labour (including Chorley), 35 SNP, 12 Lib Dem and 10 DUP, with the balance of 13 being held by Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and one Independent. Of the Labour seats, 34 were held with majorities over 50%, so could theoretically be regarded as ‘unassailable’, plus a further 108 with majorities between 25% and 49%; but 66 seats returned Labour majorities of between 10% and 25% – and 54 had ‘slim’ majorities of less than 10%.

The slim marginals where Labour voters voted to Leave in 2016 (36 in total) are those where Nigel Farage should take the next logical step of ‘putting country before party’ and stand his troops down (maybe with a couple of exceptions where local circumstances dictate). But, by the same token, it would be appropriate for Boris Johnson and his Conservatives to reciprocate by also standing down candidates in Labour seats in the 10% – 25% marginal bracket – namely those seats which voted Leave, (50 in total) and which might be regarded as having a historical antipathy to voting Conservative, to which end I would narrow that field still further to the North East, North West, Wales and Yorkshire and the Humber – some 34 seats in total.

This list includes, of course Hartlepool, the target of the Brexit Party’s Chairman, Richard Tice, which Labour held with a majority of just over 18% in 2017 and which returned one of the strongest Leave voteshares in the country of nearly 70% at the referendum. Only 9 other Labour-held constituencies returned stronger Leave voteshares, four of which – Great Grimsby, Stoke-on-Trent North, Ashfield and Dudley North – fall into the ‘slim majority’ category.

It’s often stated that it’s very difficult for either of the two major parties to sign up to electoral/political pacts, although not impossible as the Lib-Lab pacts of 1903 (thirty constituencies), 1924 (post-election), 1929 and 1977 (post by-election) as well as the Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition post-election in 2010 show. And less ‘demanding’ alliances such as the supply and confidence deal between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionists can be fraught with difficulty.

However, yet again, realpolitik must come into play. Ideally, the Conservatives will be returned with a strong majority which will enable them to negotiate firmly with the EU, enabling Boris Johnson to honour the promises regarding the ‘Super-Canada-Plus style free trade agreement’ with ‘no extension to the transition period’ he made on Sunday evening.

However, in the event of a tiny majority and bearing in mind that the DUP (assuming they are returned in like numbers, which is itself not assured) are likely to be far less amenable to deals than in the previous parliamentary session, it will be far better for Boris Johnson to have a bloc of Brexit-focused Brexit Party MPs sitting opposite him in the chamber, no matter how ‘fraught’ discussions with ‘Team Nigel’ may be, than having an increased number of anti-Brexit, Article 50-revoking Lib Dems whose leader, ‘Prime Minister-in-waiting’ Jo Swinson, has made clear her intention to ‘cancel Brexit altogether’ many times.

Nigel Farage has laid out a good hand and appears willing to build on it. For the sake of Brexit, let’s hope that Boris Johnson follows suit instead of playing dummy.