Shipwrecking PR on the Rocks of Brexit: the Scenario
Come 1 November among the possible scenarios, here is one with high probability. Johnson will have had a window to seize the option of a general election at some point. He will have needed to convince enough Tory MPs an outright majority is theirs for the taking. Currently a sustained Liberal-Democrat resurgence and twitchy opinion polls don’t help him. So could he stomach a pact with the Brexit Party? He will have had to know exactly how many of his centre-right MPs’ consciences were burdened, as Heseltine has been reminding them with the recollection that as many as five million Tories voted Remain. Equally, dozens may be harbouring grave doubts over the direction of travel of Conservatism under his leadership.
If he concludes he can do the Brexit pact, we must turn immediate and serious attention on Mr Farage, homo angrimegaphonicus, who blasts his intention ‘to reform the Westminster establishment.’ We might find him sitting in a right wing coalition cabinet. Naive souls will have taken his slogan to mean he carries a big arrow around ready to point in the direction of PR. Nul points. He subscribes no more to the notion of fairer voting than any other species of populism represented round that table. The agenda in front of them is a list of matters harmonious.
First up will be the rolling back on rights of all sorts and the attack on the liberalism they despise in social and political contexts. But they will not be clamping down on under-regulated financial markets or the unfettered corporate capitalism they admire, idolise and derive much of their most influential support from.
More discreetly, there’s a subject the group’s autocratic impulses must lead them onto sooner or later. ‘Colleagues, just a thought experiment. Can we tweak the odds to keep ourselves in power next time round? Are there opportunities to be squeezed out of FPTP?
If the thought of one-party rule presses your buttons, the bottom line challenge is to increase the chances that a smaller percentage of voters get you back in. Match that to the unchanging level of your base support and you’re home and dry. Thereafter, apply two golden rules: don’t upset them by picking a leader even they don’t like; don’t get caught on the hook of a scandal which massive public disgust will crucify you on.
We may imagine Mr Farage, prompting, ‘Surveys prove good British people like the idea of strongman government. But we’d still need a buffer against the snowflake liberals to make sure we get our feet firmly under the table.’
If you’re on 40% – even two or three points fewer in the opinion polls – FPTP holds out strong prospects for an outright majority. 2017 was atypical, a strange election in which the two major parties polled 43% and 40%, and the rest slipped away to very minor shares. Look at the opinion polls now and we see a very different picture. Four parties have been regularly polling between 15% and 30%.
In the last five elections, including 2017, the average vote for the largest party was 38%. On three occasions it was enough for an outright majority.
The current state of play puts the Tories and the Brexit Party combined in the low to mid forties. Poll results published in the mainstream media must be treated cautiously. That includes those undertaken by YouGov which rarely graphically illustrate a figure for ‘don’t knows’. This may have the effect of over representing support for one or more parties. Worse, perhaps, the partial figures reported may actually influence the eventual decisions of undecideds or waverers. We must leave that concern aside for another day.
In our scenario as it stands, we have a massive incentive for the Tory and Brexit parties to join forces. The numbers make it almost impossible for them not to get an outright majority under FPTP provided they co-ordinate efficiently. Even if that support fell to say 38% it would still be extremely difficult for the parties in the centre and on the left to stop them without themselves organising a seamless alliance. Not only might the thoroughness of the nationwide coordination required present near insuperable logistical challenges, at this point in time they are far from singing from the same hymn sheet.
So let’s conclude this section by supposing the liberal counter campaign fails. Sometime in the not too distant coming months, the deja vu moment of two bonding bros strolling the Rose Garden behind 10 Downing Street will invoke nostalgic memories of David and Nick. The buddying up pair we’ll actually be watching is Boris and Nigel.