Vote Conservative, get Labour. This was one of the salutary lessons of the Peterborough by-election in which Nigel Farage’s insurgent Brexit Party was narrowly beaten — by just under 700 votes — by Labour.
Labour got 10,484 votes
The Brexit Party got 9,801
Conservatives got 7,243
If these vote ratios are replicated in a general election, then Britain will be in serious trouble. It will mean that, just like has happened in New Zealand, the votes of the majority right will have been fatally split so that the party of the minority hard-left ends up in power.
So how do we avoid the terrifying prospect of Jeremy Corbyn, PM?
I don’t see, at this stage, how we can.
The Conservatives would probably argue that the way to avoid this would be for their voters to stick with the party they know — the Conservatives, obvs — and ignore those fly-by-night Johnnies-come-lately the Brexit Party.
Problem is, I’m not sure that a lot of us on the Brexiteer side of the argument much care what the Conservatives say or think or do any more — especially since few of their leadership candidates seem to be much interested in pursuing an agenda beyond business as usual.
At dinner last night I sat with several former staunch Conservatives who had no faith in the party’s ability — even under a new leader — to deliver meaningful Brexit. Their loyalties had shifted to the Brexit Party and they were in no mood for switching back.
Yes, there’s an argument that the divisions on the left (between the hard-left Momentum faction and the Blairite centrists) are just as great. But if so, there wasn’t much evidence of that split in Peterborough last night, was there?
Labour voters, it would appear, are more stubbornly tribal than Conservative ones. They don’t seem much to care about their candidates’ politics or character: if it’s wearing a red rosette, they’ll vote for it.
Exclusive Video: Delingpole Meets Farage on the Brexit Party Campaign Trail in Peterborough https://t.co/4Zk01BzI0W
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) June 5, 2019
Nigel Farage warned me about this when we met in Peterborough at the weekend. He didn’t want to get too cocky about the prospects of the Brexit Party winning their first parliamentary seat, he explained, because being a new party they simply didn’t have the access to the voter data. For the Brexit Party, every seat it fights is virgin territory. Labour, on the other hand, had a database showing the names and addresses of all their supporters in Peterborough and put great effort into mobilising the red vote.
Even though the Labour vote has fallen dramatically — in 2017 it was 22,950, yesterday it was just 10,484 — it was still just enough to carry Labour over the line ahead of the Brexit Party.
The Brexit Party did very well under the circumstances. For a party which didn’t even exist two months ago to win 29 per cent of the vote and come within a hair’s breadth of gaining its first parliamentary seat is no mean feat.
But let’s not pretend that the result isn’t a disappointment. My view is that the Brexit Party was robbed — and that there’s possibly something very dodgy about that 69.4 per cent postal vote turn-out. The fact remains, though, that this would have been the perfect occasion for the Brexit Party to demonstrate its viability beyond mere protest elections like those for the EU parliament and also to send a shot across the bows of the Conservative Party leadership candidates.
Brexit Party Tops National Polls with Largest Lead to Date https://t.co/Ykqfv9em2G
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) June 7, 2019
What happens next, I think, depends on who the Conservatives end up electing as their new leader.
Like Allister Heath, I reckon that unless they can find someone capable of delivering the hardest Brexit possible — and fast, with no delays beyond the current exit date October 29th — then the Conservatives are toast.
I don’t believe they will rise to this challenge: even the most robustly Brexiteer candidates seem more interested in trying to win over the wet, Remainer rump of the party than they are in appealing to the broader electorate.
This will be excellent news for the long-term prospects of the Brexit Party — and confirmation of everything Nigel Farage says: that the Tories cannot be trusted.
But in the shorter term, I fear the perfect storm which could put the otherwise unelectable terrorist-supporting, antisemitic Marxist Jeremy Corbyn into power.