While a boost for Brexiters, Farage’s decision to stand down in Tory-held seats may not pay the dividends he or Johnson seek.

First published in November 2019.

We were all waiting for this announcement, weren’t we? At some point, Farage was going to acquiesce to Johnson in some regard, either pulling all of the Brexit Party’s from the field or forming some loose alliance or arrangement that increased the chances of a Tory majority. It seems that, in exchange for who knows what, Farage has pulled out of all seats that the Tories won in 2017, instead claiming that the party’s main fight was with Labour. It’s also however likely that the decision was driven largely by a fear of a perceived LibDem surge across the southwest of England and in the suburbs of London. Such a surge would, in his eyes, delay Brexit for years, possibly even cancelling the whole thing altogether.

This announcement is certainly a boost for Brexiters. Indeed, many in the Brexit Party likely felt uneasy challenging arch-Brexiters like Jacob Rees-Mogg or Bill Cash, whilst they were also wary of the momentum the LibDems had picked up since Swinson’s confirmation as party leader. Many may feel that, with this loose pact or alliance, that the Tory majority is assured, and with it, Brexit too. Such feelings may, however, prove misplaced. Johnson will certainly be buoyed by this, and it’s likely a few Tory seats are a lot safer than they were before.

However, a key point has been missed here; yes, some Tory seats are indeed safer, but does that necessarily mean that all have been saved from a LibDem or Remainer surge? Unlikely.

Workington Men & Cheltenham Women

Much of this election’s coverage has focused on the so-called ‘Workington man’, an archetype formed largely by commentators to describe a largely white, largely male demographic across northern England who, whilst traditionally being Labour voters, were going to vote for either the Brexit Party or Tories because of either Brexit, Corbyn or a combination of the two. Such an archetype echoes back to the ‘white van man’ of the Thatcher years – Indeed, you could argue that it’s the exact same demographic; working-class, largely white men who vote Conservative because they don’t trust Labour on a variety of issues, Brexit being one.

There is another archetype though that hasn’t had as much – if any – attention, namely that of the so-called ‘Cheltenham woman’. The adage refers to centrist and moderate voters living in both the Home Counties and southern England, many of whom at the 2015 election largely backed the Tories. This time, however, such a demographic could prove to be the one that helps the LibDems regain many seats lost to the Tories so-called ‘decapitation strategy’ that saw them sweep much of the south-west.

So-called ‘Cheltenham women’ – let’s be real, ‘moderate voters’ as they’re properly known – largely backed either Remain or, at the very least, a softer Brexit than what Johnson is now offering. Many of this same demographic, especially those in places like Barnet, St. Albans, and Putney, will feel politically homeless following the ‘Trumpification’ of the Conservatives under Johnson. David Cameron won and kept these voters through his vision of ‘compassionate conservativism’; Johnson’s deal with the Brexit Party, a deal one could argue means he is now in Farage’s pocket, risks further alienating such voters, sending them running into the arms of the LibDems and other Remain-backing independents.

A Growing & Rebellious Remain Alliance

There is one other consequence of this deal that hasn’t been spoken about, namely that it may end up forcing both the LibDems and Labour to ‘kiss and make-up’, thus allowing for the ‘Unite to Remain’ alliance to expand and win marginal seats. The announcement of Farage’s decision produced more and more calls from Labour and LibDem voters and members for the two parties to form some kind of alliance to stave off the threat of the hard-right.

Seats like St. Ives, Cheltenham or Richmond Park are seats the LibDems need to win in order to prevent a Tory majority, whilst others like Canterbury or Hastings and Rye are currently Labour/Tory marginals that Labour needs to hold or win in order to prevent a Tory majority. Given the now very real chance of Johnson getting a majority, both parties could decide to bury the hatchet and realise that whilst neither of them are exactly friendly with one another, there’s a bigger enemy to deal with right now and compromises have to be made.

Such calls, of course, could prove to be naive. Many of the most hardcore Corbynista types seem to loathe the LibDems more than they do the Tories, whilst Swinson’s refusal to accept any agreement involving Corbyn – coupled of course with Labour’s well-documented problems with anti-semitism – could scupper any deal from being formed in time.

In The End, We’ll Get What We Deserve

All in all, this is a piece written more out of hope rather than concrete conviction or confidence. I've got a nagging feeling that come the cold light of day on – and you couldn’t write this – Friday the 13th of December, the UK will be waking up to a Tory majority not seen since the Thatcher years.

Farage’s announcement today is no doubt a major boost for Johnson. What he has offered in return is anyone’s guess. Many think and fear that it’s to crash out next year on WTO terms, no questions asked. Either that or a knighthood.

The irony of all this is that WTO terms, Singapore-On-Thames” vision of the UK isn’t necessarily popular with voters of any kind, other than the incredibly wealthy. Many want more spending, progressive taxation, and more regional input into decision-making, none of which will come from Johnson, Farage or the Brexit Party-Conservative alliance.

Remain can still hold Johnson. It’s likely that the Tories will be the largest party, but whether they’ll have enough seats for a considerable, comfortable majority could come down to a combination of whether moderates really do despise Johnson and think he’s Farage’s puppet; whether Corbyn can repeat his 2017 performance; and whether Remainers can, in at least certain instances, form some form of pact with Labour.

Time will tell.🔷

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[This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com on 11 November 2019. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/Gage Skidmore. - Nigel Farage. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)