Nigel Farage Gives Boris Johnson A Helping Hand. Sort of.
Nigel Farage's Brexit Party is helping out Boris Johnson's Tories. Sort of.
With just under a month to go until the December 12th election in the United Kingdom, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has taken a step that seems to lend a helping hand to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives:
In a tactical retreat that could have important ramifications, Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s populist Brexit Party, on Monday promised not to run candidates in areas held by the ruling Conservatives. The move was expected to bolster Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prospects in a topsy-turvy general election next month.
Mr. Farage had been under pressure from his own supporters who worried that, by splitting the pro-Brexit vote, he might deprive Mr. Johnson of the victory he needs to pull Britain quickly out of the European Union.
However, the Brexit Party is still planning to fight seats currently held by the opposition Labour Party, and in doing so could draw away Conservative voters in the electoral battlegrounds of the middle and north of England. The Conservatives desperately need to grab Labour seats in areas there that voted Leave in the 2016 referendum on whether to remain in the European Union.
So, while the partial pact helps the Conservatives, analysts do not think it will do so enough to decide the outcome of an election likely to determine whether Britain leaves the European Union at the end of January, as Mr. Johnson wishes, or holds another Brexit referendum next year.
Mr. Farage, who formerly led the U.K. Independence Party, has failed seven times to win a seat in the British Parliament, and said earlier this month that he would not make an eighth attempt himself, but would instead campaign in support of candidates around the country.
That will now be in significantly fewer parliamentary constituencies.
“The Brexit party will not contest the 317 seats the Conservatives won at the last election,” Mr. Farage said in Hartlepool, a struggling town in the northeast of England that voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit referendum.
“We will concentrate our total effort into all the seats that are held by the Labour party,” he said.
The Brexit Party will also take on smaller parties like the Liberal Democrats that oppose withdrawal from the European Union, he said.
More from The Guardian:
Nigel Farage has said the Brexit party will not field any candidates against the Conservatives in the 317 seats they won at the last general election, after Boris Johnson committed to leaving the EU by 2020 and pursuing a Canada-style trade deal.
Farage said his party’s climbdown came after months of trying to create a leave alliance with the Tories, but he felt it was time to put the country before his party and make a “unilateral” move.
He will announce on Friday in which seats the Brexit party is standing. Speculation continues over where the party will stand but it is not expected to run in Northern Ireland or parts of Scotland.
As he spelled out his general election strategy at a rally in Hartlepool, which voted 70% to leave the EU, Farage said he had concluded that if the Brexit party had stood a candidate in every seat it could split the vote and usher in dozens of Liberal Democrat MPs and, in turn, create the circumstances for a second referendum.
He said: “The Brexit party will not contest the 317 seats the Conservatives won at the last election. We will concentrate our total effort into all the seats that are held by the Labour party, who have completely broken their manifesto pledge in 2017 to respect the result of the referendum, and we will also take on the rest of the remainer parties. We will stand up and fight them all.”
He said this strategy was reliant on Johnson sticking to his promises on delivering Brexit, and getting Brexit party MPs into parliament to keep the pressure on him.
“We are going to keep saying: remember you told us we were leaving at the end of 2020. Remember you told us we’re not going to have political alignment. He will know, just as Mrs May’s vote disappeared in the European elections of this year, the same will happen again if a British prime minister breaks firm commitments and promises made to the British people.”
On the surface, this move seems to help the Conservatives in that it seemingly guarantees that the pro-Brexit vote will not be divided for any of the seats that it currently holds in the House of Commons. This takes at least some pressure off the Tories in that it means that pro-Brexit voters in each of the 317 constituencies at issue will essentially have only one pro-Brexit choice for them on the ballot since both the Labour Party is campaigning on a platform that, while not explicitly anti-Brexit, is far less pro-Brexit and the Liberal Democrats are emphatically anti-Brexit. It also means that Brexit Party supporters in those constituencies will also be faced with the fact that there will be only one pro-Brexit candidate on their ballot.
The actual impact of what Farage did here is limited, though, by the fact that his pledge does not extend to the roughly 260 seats outside of Scotland, which is largely controlled by the Scottish National Party, that are not currently held by Conservative MPs. Apparently, the Brexit Party will be challenging the Tories and the other major parties in those constituencies, and that could lead to the pro-Brexit vote there being sufficiently divided that it allows either the Labour or Liberal Democratic candidate to win the seat via a plurality of the vote. Depending on how well the Brexit Party does on Election Day, that could undercut the Conservative Party’s ability to win the majority it needs to claim a Brexit mandate.
As for the election itself, current polling, as reflected in the polling aggregation being done by Britain Elects, Politico Europe, and The Economist continues to show the Conservatives at least ten points ahead of Labour. Additionally, the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party seem to be declining after polling fairly high when the election was called. Assuming this is accurate and the number sustain themselves between now and December 12th, then it could end up being very good news for Johnson and the Tories. As we’ve seen in the past, though, good polling at the start of a British General Election isn’t necessarily a predictor of what will happen on Election Day.
In any case, as I said, this move by Farage will help Johnson and the Tories at least to some extent but they’ve still got their work cut out for them.