If Nigel Farage is putting country before party, he should stand down more candidates before nominations close

If Nigel Farage is putting country before party, he should stand down more candidates before nominations close

Until yesterday there was a danger that Brexit looked like it could be beginning to slip through our fingers. Like millions of other Leavers, the Hartlepool announcement by Nigel Farage has transformed my despair from the Brexit Party leader’s statement on 1st November, to hope and optimism.

Despite being an advocate of a Leave Alliance, I have always been cautious about the likelihood of one being agreed. Yet with studies like Matthew Goodwin’s indicating how if the Tories leaked votes to the Brexit Party, a hung parliament could be likely, I began to wonder what options we had left. Therefore, the decision taken by the Brexit Party to not stand in the 317 seats won by the Conservatives in 2017 is a seismic step forward towards British independence. Retaining these seats is essential to ensuring Boris Johnson can command a majority in the House of Commons and plenty of seats were vulnerable. Nonetheless, Farage could still put Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10.

The chances of the Conservatives preserving their majorities in vital seats undoubtedly increased following the Hartlepool speech. Ardent Brexiteers like Iain Duncan Smith, George Eustice and Andrea Jenkyns can take comfort from knowing that the Leave vote will not split. All of these Brexiteers are currently vulnerable. Polls conducted by Survation show that even Dominic Raab in Esher and Walton would have to fight off a resurgent Liberal Democrat. But when factoring in the ‘Unite to Remain’ campaign, and the Brexit Party’s heroic decision to stand down their candidate, there is potential for the Tories to win 49% of the vote share.

But it will also protect the marginal Tory Leave heartlands like Southampton Itchen – and Thurrock, where Farage’s UKIP finished just 1,000 votes behind the winner in 2015. These seats look more likely again to return Conservative MPs than they did 24 hours ago.

However, we cannot ignore concerns over the 315 constituencies in Great Britain in which the Brexit Party have implied that they will stand. The announcement has not eradicated the potential threat that the Brexit Party pose in seats like Portsmouth South, where polls suggest that their intervention and a split Leave vote could enable the Lib Dems to take the seat from Labour, robbing a former Vote Leave coordinator the chance of being elected a Conservative MP. Both the Brecon and Radnorshire and Peterborough by-elections give insight into the damage that splitting the Leave vote in marginal seats can do. According to correspondents at BBC’s Look East, the Brexit Party are going to contest the Liberal Democrat-held, Leave-voting marginal of North Norfolk, despite the Tories chasing in a close second place.

So what can we hope for? It would be wise for the Brexit Party to concentrate their resources with a narrower focus – and that means standing down more candidates.

For starters, the Brexit Party should stand down candidates in all 59 seats in Scotland. Scotland is not only the most pro-Remain component nation of Great Britain, but it also has a political landscape increasingly similar to Ulster, in that its division is not just Left v Right but also Unionist v Nationalist. If the Conservatives stood as the only real proponent of Unionism, with Labour offering a second Independence referendum and the Liberal Democrats working with the Welsh separatists of Plaid Cymru, then they could aspire for around one third of the voteshare, rather than the one fifth that they are currently polling. Furthermore, Farage does not have the appeal in Scotland than he has in parts of England and Wales. Not only was he disgracefully forced to take refuge in an Edinburgh pub but in the General Election of 2015, UKIP decided not to stand in many Scottish seats, and in those in which they did, like East Lothian, they won a meagre 3% of the vote. This 3% may be perceived as too insignificant to make a difference, but with the Tories trying to overturn a swing of 5% or less in 11 of their 63 main targets, then all votes are vital.

In addition, if Nigel Farage truly believes in putting ‘country before party’, then he should reluctantly make even more significant concessions in England and Wales, including 53 constituencies held by Labour and the Liberal Democrats with a majority of 10% or less. Boris Johnson’s Conservatives would be best placed to be the sole Brexiteers fighting all of these seats, like Oxford West & Abingdon and Stroud, which were only lost by the Conservatives in 2017. It seems absurd that the Brexit Party would risk allowing Layla Moran to retain her seat. Likewise for the Labour MP in Leave-voting Peterborough, a bellwether seat between the Tories and Labour, that the Conservatives only lost in 2017, making it one of Johnson’s top targets.

This would leave the Brexit Party to concentrate their resources, funding and activists in between 30 and 90 seats. In these seats, it is they, not the Conservatives, who can threaten Labour’s rule that dates back in some constituencies to the beginning of the twentieth century. Farage has already stated that he is going to target the Labour heartlands and with Arron Banks pulling strings on a tactical voting page, this could see the Brexit Party make significant inroads into challenging the anti-Brexit Labour Party at the coalface. By doing this, the Brexit Party can challenge the likes of Yvette Cooper, Angela Rayner and even Ed Miliband. If they defeat proponents of Remain, like these, then they will have left their stamp on British politics forever. But if they fail to do this, and instead stand against the Tories in seats like Dudley North and Bishop Auckland that they know the Tories may gain, then they are working against Brexiteers commanding a majority in the Commons.

In my first BrexitCentral article I pleaded with Boris Johnson to accept Farage’s overtures and let the Brexit Party wreak havoc in the Labour heartlands. I stand by this, but I have begrudgingly concluded that the Tories will never do a pre-election deal with another party. Nonetheless, I do have some advice for Boris Johnson: in the seats that the Brexit Party can throw the kitchen sink at if you are not going to stand down, then at least keep campaigning to a minimum and facilitate a surge in support for Farage by any means necessary. For as much blame will lie at the feet of the Conservatives if they are the reason why Labour retain their heartlands. This is where the Leave.EU campaign and app will be of importance. With over 1,000,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook, Arron Banks has the reach to influence Brexiteers, whether they are advised to vote for the Tories or the Brexit Party.

If Farage decides to fight on in the remaining 315 seats that make up the rest of Great Britain, then the threat of a Corbyn-led government has not been averted. I hope that over the next few days the Brexit Party stand down more candidates, leaving between 30 and 90 of their best candidates with all of the resources of the Brexit Party invested into them. If not then Brexiteers, from all corners of Great Britain, and with starkly different political voting histories, must put their differences aside, for the way to ensure that the United Kingdom leaves the European Union is through a Conservative majority.

So if this is the last of Farage’s honourable concessions and subsequently the Leave vote remains divided in Labour marginals, then Brexiteers must unite behind Boris Johnson or risk being trapped in the EU forever. But in the meantime, we must wait until 14th November when nominations close to see exactly who is standing where.