Unless the Tories embrace No Deal under a new leader, the party could face electoral oblivion

Unless the Tories embrace No Deal under a new leader, the party could face electoral oblivion

As the ruling party of the United Kingdom slumps to just 10% by the measure of some recent European election polls, a colourful spectrum in varying levels of self-reflection descends across its parliamentary representatives. A stark, immediate and pressing question of political direction faces the Conservative Party.

Currently, its MPs are reaching different conclusions as to the phenomenon taking place in British politics; Steve Baker, Lucy Allan and Andrea Jenkyns recognise the threat Nigel Farage and his ilk pose and the necessity for renewal. His success is only explained by Conservative failure in handling Brexit, whether it be in complete reluctance to leave on WTO terms, a capitulating negotiation strategy or (as some Tory MPs would profess) an inability to pass Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons.

What is for certain, however, is that Farage’s no-deal Brexit proposals are rallying support quickly, most of it from the Tory base – and at an unprecedented rate. If polls are to be believed, in a matter of a few weeks, the Brexit Party has managed to consume half of the Conservative vote. This would put the possibility of the Conservatives remaining in government close to zero. Forecasts have furthermore predicted that Secretary of Defence, Penny Mordaunt, Tory chairman, Brandon Lewis and countless more would be among some 150 Tory MPs to be unseated at a general election.

Whereas some of the more resilient European Research Group MPs have considered the looming electoral threat appropriately, the likes of James Cleverly, Brandon Lewis, Steve Barclay and Theresa May herself apparently believe the phenomenon at hand can be put to rest by ‘delivering’ Brexit with the Withdrawal Agreement. Others accept the need for a fresh face as leader but believe that another corporate centrist May 2.0 candidate such as Amber Rudd or Rory Stewart (who espouse continued close affiliation with the European Union) would save the party.

For the latter two, political reality seems to have escaped. A naive misreading of the situation has led them to overlook the hyperpoliticisiation that has taken place recently among the voting public. This is evident in Change UK’s rapid collapse into obscurity and irrelevance, despite mainstream outlets largely hailing support behind them. Gone are the days when good spin could determine public opinion.

It is the same for public rejection of May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which is unlikely to budge. The deal is an objectively poor position for our country to be in, a customs union would prevent us from pursuing self-deterministic free trade away from the European Union while still being beholden to its laws. The public appear to clearly recognise this. Additionally, after the BBC’s airing of Brexit: Behind Closed Doors (a fly-on-the-wall documentary from the European side covering the negotiations that led to the Agreement) revealingly depicted EU negotiators celebrating and declaring that the UK had been turned into ‘a colony’, there is little spin that is likely to convince an ever-observant public otherwise.

Most of the parliamentary Conservative Party remain committed to the deal, yet in a pragmatic sense their doing so seems totally irrational. A clear majority of Conservative Party members prefer a no-deal Brexit, despite loud and conceited fear-mongering in political discourse consistently describing the option as a ‘cliff edge’. This suggests the electorate and Tory base is engaged and is analysing for themselves, not apathetically settling for the orthodoxy. No matter how many fabricated, wishfully-thinking polls Rory Stewart cites, the parliamentary party’s passion for the deal is highly unlikely to ever be matched by voters or the grassroots any time soon.

This disconnect, alongside the continued appraisal of deeply unpopular Brexit agreement, is the reason for the haemorrhaging of support to the Brexit Party. A party abandoning a majority of its base represents unquestionable political stupidity. The political narrative from Remainers used to cite the possibility of a no-deal Brexit as a financial catastrophe and cliff edge – yet it is in fact the Tories who have come to find themselves staring over the edge of an increasingly volatile cliff. Perhaps this repeated prophecy was not meant for Britain in the eventuality of a WTO Brexit, but for its ruling party without one. The near 200-year-old party is enduring, but it is becoming quickly apparent that it is certainly not invincible.

Factional infighting, especially over the topic of Europe, has long been the bane of the Conservatives. Yet this time it is different. The oldest party in British politics may not be facing potential electoral oblivion yet but the Brexit Party is already polling considerably higher than UKIP ever did – and there is a feeling we have not yet seen it peak to its full potential. Further polling has suggested Nigel Farage’s new party has risen to become Britain’s most popular party for the European elections and could well attain second place at the national level.

As academic Matthew Goodwin puts it, the Tories have themselves to blame. It is their ineptitude to address adequately issues such as democracy, sovereignty and demand for free trade whilst in government that has far from quelled populism in the United Kingdom – it has put it on steroids. Farage has tapped into where the Tories, by all measures, should be – into long-deprived mainstream centre-right opinion. Patriotism and ambition is something that has long seemed vacant since the current Prime Minister took office.

The party’s own cliff edge situation now means that without embracing No Deal – the most popular Brexit option – what we have seen so far suggests they could be democratically replaced by the new right-of-centre party on the block. Currently, the Conservatives seemingly hold no ideological foundations. Under May the party has sold itself purely on pragmatism and competency. Its ineptitude in office suggests neither and ideologically inspires none, which is a dangerous position in which to be.

Trends in Europe show that traditional right-of-centre parties are susceptible to collapse and crash from their position in mainstream politics: France’s Les Républicains did in 2017, Italy’s Forza Italia did a year later, whilst Germany’s CDU and Spain’s Partido Popular are also currently looking like they are on their way out. First past the post has been often stated to be Britain’s structural defence of the two-party system; the public are well aware that without their tactically voting for their left-right preference they could well end up with their ideological opposition in government. This, then, is likely a sign that patience is wearing thin.

What’s more dangerous than Nigel Farage saying the things Conservative voters think, is that the Brexit Party’s strong polling means they are fast becoming a viable political option for the vast number of those the Tories neglect to represent.