Northern Tories have warned that Nigel Farage’s so-called ‘Leave alliance’ offer will make little difference unless he axes Brexit Party candidates in Leave-backing Labour seats.
The Brexit Party leader is giving the Tories a free run in the 317 seats it won in 2017 while standing in Brexit-backing Labour held areas also targeted by Boris Johnson.
Tory figures told HuffPost UK that Farage’s decision to continue standing in target seats risked jeopardising Brexit by allowing Labour to hang on.
Peter Gibson, who is fighting to overturn a 3,280 Labour majority in Darlington, said he saw “no logic” in the Brexit Party standing across Leave-backing Tory target seats in the north-east.
He told HuffPost UK: “If they want to see Brexit done and they are going to run the risk of fielding a candidate in this seat, which is a target Conservative seat where we need a 3% swing to the Conservatives to take the seat back, it’s ridiculous to think they would do that and jeopardise handing the seat to Jenny Chapman, the shadow Brexit minister.
“It would be foolhardy for them to field candidates in seats which are very winnable for us, and where the candidates have specifically committed to delivering Brexit, backing Boris, backing no deal in the event that was required - like myself in Darlington, Dehenna Davison in Bishop Auckland, Matt Vickers in Stockton South, Simon Clarke in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.”
“You could argue it makes it harder for us because if he’s withdrawing resource from a lot of seats, he’s going to be putting it into the others”
A northern Tory source meanwhile warned that Farage’s narrower focus could make the Brexit Party more of a threat in Labour-held seats where it will be able to pour in resources.
The source said: “There’s not a lot of seats they would have taken off us anyway that we had, there’s maybe a couple of marginals where it may make a difference.
“It’s the ones we’re trying to get it will affect.
“You could argue it makes it harder for us because if he’s withdrawing resource from a lot of seats, he’s going to be putting it into the others.”
The anti-racism charity Hope Not Hate agreed.
Campaigns director Matthew McGregor said: “While the media will focus on his humiliation, those of us who want to stop the Brexit Party winning a single seat must stay focused.
“The reality is that there is now an increased threat from Nigel Farage’s party, who will now focus their resources in a smaller number of target seats, predominantly in the north.”
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith also urged Farage to go further and stand down more candidates.
He told BBC Radio 4′s World At One: “I would hope that this is the start of the Brexit Party recognising that even standing across the board in those sort of seats will also end up helping those Labour incumbents who are sitting there worrying at the moment about the fact that they have a very, very large Leave vote, and if that is split, then that means they might just sneak through, which could be the difference between us winning a majority and only becoming the majority party.
“And of course winning a majority is critical, if you want to deliver Brexit and Boris to stay.”
Incumbent Tories in marginal northern-held seats welcomed Farage’s offer but again voiced scepticism about its impact.
One figure, defending for the Tories against Labour in a tight marginal seat in the north, said: “No Ukip last time didn’t help.
“But I have picked up people who have always voted Labour saying they are deciding between us and the Brexit Party. So I have hope.”
Robert Goodwill, defending the marginal Scarborough and Whitby, said: “Electoral Calculus (the forecasting website) has given me all the Brexit Party votes.
“But it’s not as simple as that.
“Probably the most important effect is that Farage has endorsed Boris’s deal.
“So I think the Brexit Party standing was a small positive for me but not standing in these circumstances is a bigger positive.”
What the experts say
Patrick English, the Exeter University lecturer who provides election analysis for the BBC, said Farage’s move would help the Tories hang on in areas like the south-west where they are threatened by the Liberal Democrats.
But the Brexit Party will still prove a significant barrier to the Tories winning in Labour heartlands.
““It’s good news for Johnson but I don’t think it’s one of those ‘wow, all bets are off’ moments.””
“The Brexit Party, it needs repeating again and again - where they stand they will hurt the Conservatives more than they hurt Labour, so them pulling out of Conservative-held seats will help the Conservatives defend those seats,” English said.
“However, does it help them beyond that towards getting a majority? Probably not because if the Brexit Party is still standing in target seats where Labour won in 2017 there is still going to be a roadblock there for Conservatives trying to eat away into the Labour heartlands.
“Realistically they are going to lose seats to the SNP in Scotland, they are still going to lose some seats to the Liberal Democrats, so they need to make the gains from Labour and the Brexit Party in the way of that is going to be very detrimental to those hopes.
“It’s good news for Johnson but I don’t think it’s one of those ‘wow, all bets are off’ moments.”
Tory election expert Lord Hayward meanwhile warned that it was difficult to predict the impact.
“We are looking at a local general election in a way that has never been the case in my lifetime,” he said.
“You really do have to look at it seat-by-seat, demographic-by-demographic.”
Chris Curtis, of pollsters YouGov, said Tory-Labour marginal battles were still “the most important dynamic in deciding who will be celebrating Christmas in 10 Downing Street”.
“Given this, Farage’s decision to stand aside in current Conservative-held seats and not in Labour-held seats that the Tories will be looking to gain will likely make very little difference,” he said.
Curtis did back Goodwill’s assessment that Farage backing Johnson’s deal could help the Tories.
“It could be that even in seats where the Brexit Party are standing, voters that might otherwise have supported the party now feel more comfortable voting Conservative after Farage’s comments,” Curtis said.
“However given the Brexit Party was already trending downwards in the polls, it looked like this was happening already. So, despite today’s drama, this is unlikely to be a game-changing moment.”