The Conservatives would benefit from cooperating with Nigel Farage and his business in a forthcoming general election – but would the arch-Brexiteer sacrifice his latest venture?
There are many hurdles in the way of the pact that Farage has indicated he may desire between The Brexit Party Ltd that he owns and Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.
At a rally in Westminster to announce the Brexit Party’s next wave of candidates to fight for seats in the next general election last week, Farage confirmed the Brexit Party would form a “non-aggression pact” with the Conservative Party if it pursues a no-deal Brexit.
However, now that there are moves to block this outcome from happening and Johnson says he would prefer to leave the EU with a deal, it’s questionable about what happens next.
While the value of a pact to the Conservative party is obvious, its attraction to the Brexit Party is far from clear.
Let’s assume Farage is open to a pact to get the biggest representation in parliament for his limited company, as he was indicating again yesterday.
He would, therefore, need the Conservatives to stand down in seats the Brexit Party Ltd could win.
Where are these? The most obvious are the seats with the highest Brexit vote in 2016. There were 50 where 67% or more voted to leave the EU.
Where possibly could Johnson’s Tories stand down?
After the seats that currently still have Conservative MPs are ruled out – including Boston and Skegness, which had the highest pro-Brexit vote of 75% – 26 Labour-held and strongly pro-Brexit seats would remain.
There are 13 of these that are Labour-Conservative marginals, which could fall to the Tories on a 7% swing. It is highly unlikely that the Tories would surrender these: they are exactly the sort of seats the Tories need to target if they are to have any hope of securing a clear majority in a new parliament.
What remains are the 13 powerfully pro-Brexit Labour seats where the Tories haven’t a realistic hope in hell of winning.
This means it would not worry them a lot if they were offered to Farage. However, although his limited company did well in all of them last May, the Brexit Party Ltd would struggle to win any of them in a general election. Why? Because they include Doncaster North, where Ed Miliband’s majority is 14,024, and Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, where Yvette Cooper is 14,499 ahead of the Tories.
In these, and the other 11 seats on this list, the Conservatives have never done well in living memory: they include towns and cities like Barnsley, Hemsworth, Hull, Redcar, Rotherham, and Wentworth.
If the Tories were to stand down and throw their endorsement in the direction of the Brexit party, Farage’s candidates in these Labour heartlands would lose their most appealing quality: they are a Tory-hating alternative for pro-Brexit voters that would not help Johnson.
If voters locally were pressured into choosing between their existing, pro-EU Labour MP and a Tory-backed pro-Brexit candidate, the smart money would be on Miliband, Cooper et al holding their seats.
A pact may not only reduce Farage’s limited company’s chances in Labour’s heartlands; but also, by standing down in a number of marginals the Brexit Party Ltd would be diminishing its vote tally overall. It may not matter in a formal sense but to an insurgent party with ambitions, the symbolic significance would not be a good look.
So, whatever Farage says, a pact looks extremely unattractive to the Brexit party in terms of seats and overall votes.
However, Farage is unlikely to want to be remembered as the man who stopped Brexit happening, so the most obvious benefit of a pact to him and his cabal is that, even if his party ends up with no MPs, by standing aside in the key marginals he could make sure there is a clear Tory majority so the UK would leave the EU.
Without such a pact, the pro-Brexit vote would split in many key seats. Labour and the LibDems could make the gains they need to make sure of a majority for a fresh Brexit referendum in the new parliament, and the UK could remain in the EU after all.
So there is a paradox for Farage.
On the one hand, a pact could advance the Brexit Party Ltd’s main cause, but destroy the party itself: it would lose its purpose and its future with zilch MPs, but it would be able to watch Brexit happen from the sidelines.
On the other hand, failure to enter into a pact may well kill Brexit altogether, but it would also be bound to probably fatally damage the Tories, and lead to a political realignment in which Farage could have a big impact.
Which future would Farage prefer? It looks like we won’t have long to find out.