Was it a win for leave? Was it a win for remain?
That’s the debate now being held by those in Westminster and the devolved assemblies, trying to work out whether a vote for Labour or the Conservatives was a vote for remain or not. However, it’s a mindless and pointless debate that ignores some parties (read, Labour) were deliberately ambiguous in an effort to attract leave or remain votes, and overshadows the starkest fact to come out of this election: a party clearly and openly advocating for a no-deal Brexit topped the polls.
In 2016 it could be argued that the British public didn’t know enough about a no-deal Brexit, however three years later, after all the vitriol and fear coming from the second referendum camp, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party were clear winners on Sunday. And they didn’t just win, they won big – so big they’re now the joint largest party in the European Parliament.
No party or politician in leave areas are safe – politics is changing and realigning and more voters than ever before are lending their votes to different parties. Unless parties like the Tories change with them, they could be consigned to the history books – a scary thought for all those Tory MPs in strong leave constituencies who saw 40%+ polled by the Brexit Party.
If the Tory party are to continue in government and as a functioning political party, then it must embrace and prepare for a WTO Brexit in October – a long extension in October could produce an environment in which the Brexit Party flourish even further at their expense. With the current electoral standing of the Conservative Party, all it would take is a small percentage sticking with the Brexit Party in a General Election for it to become unforeseeable how they win.
Both the Tories and Labour have spent so long trying to attract voters from both sides they’ve allowed parties with clear positions to surge. The Tories have far more to gain than lose by committing to leaving in an orderly fashion on 31 October – especially if Labour do move to demanding a second referendum before we leave.
However, should the Conservative Party fail to deliver on the referendum, even after all the constant nudges by the electorate at every election since, then things become extremely bleak and quickly. They will lose their electability in many seats around the country, especially ones where we saw the Brexit Party polling above 50%, thus putting Nigel Farage’s message on steroids coming up to the next election – and we can be sure that he and his new party would capitalise. It wouldn’t just be Tory seats being eaten up in places like Thurrock, Thanet South and Boston, it would be Labour seats too in places like Hartlepool, Sunderland, Hull and Stoke.
Admittedly though, Labour could possibly offset these losses by focusing on a purely remain message and winning seats in remain areas – but in doing so they would betray millions in the North who voted leave, putting them in only a marginal better position if even it paid off. This is unlikely though – I believe it is much more realistic that Labour will be in the same position they were in on Thursday, caught in a catch-22 between their more northern working class voters and their more southern middle class voters in major cities.
If this trend were to continue, Labour could be ripped in half by its split core vote, allowing a repeat of the European elections, with the Brexit Party taking seats n leave areas, and the Lib Dems doing the exact same in places that voted remain. Labour have been on the fence for so long now that whenever they fall on a side the debate, it is bound to cause some pain with the other side. At least the Tories were given one clear message to deliver Brexit – Labour were given two messages saying the exact opposite of each other. A recipe for disaster.
Farage, the Brexit Party and Brexit itself are past breathing down the neck of the Tories – they have them by the throat, and there is only one way out: deliver on the referendum. The Tories escaped the wrath of Farage in 2015 by succumbing to the pressure of Ukip and promising a referendum, now they must do the same: deliver or face annihilation at the ballot box. Farage and his party are more professional than ever and come without the baggage of Ukip. They will pose a serious electoral threat when it comes to Westminster elections – as the Tories may well find out in Peterborough in the coming weeks.
Politics seems to be more divided by leave or remain than class currently, leaving Farage in a position like no other. His tank is parked on the Tory lawns. All that remains to be seen now is if they can react quick enough to install a leader willing to take us out of the EU with a deal, or whether they will flounder under the pressure and hand Farage a bunch of seats in Westminster. Should they flounder, expect to see a new political force in Westminster after the next election.