This week, Nigel Farage upset the political applecart in a big way. He has a habit of doing that doesn’t he?
His latest move was to announce that the Brexit Party will not be fielding candidates in Conservative held seats. In short, this means all incumbent Tory MPs are now running as the only real pro-Brexit voice on the ballot paper, and the ‘leave’ vote is set to line up neatly behind them. The Brexit Party’s continued presence in all other seats is undoubtedly a pain for the Conservatives, but even so, polls indicate that the leave vote is much less split than the remain vote, and Brexit party support is in single figures overall.
Encouraging tactical voting has always been a major part of winning elections, but in this one it is paramount. Afterall, this election is about Brexit and polls have consistently shown that – give or take about 5 percentage points – the public are divided down the middle on the issue. The reason the Tories are favourites is not because the public overwhelmingly backs Brexit, but because of the split on the Remain side.
Since Monday’s Brexit Party announcement there have been intense debates amongst Labour and Lib Dem circles about whether or not some sort of deal is possible. There has been a pact between Lib Dems, Green and Plaid Cymru not to campaign against each other, but in order to really unify the remain vote, Labour need to be in the fold as well. Lib Dem candidate for Canterbury Tim Walker even took matters into his own hands, standing down to avoid splitting the vote in the key Labour-held marginal. However, the next day, the Party parachuted in a replacement. Whatever some of the rank and file think, Jo Swinson does not want to stand down for anyone wearing a red rosette.
The reason this partly proved impossible to solve is ultimately because Labour and the Lib Dems are very different parties, who are not at all chummy. Many Lib Dems hate Corbyn as much as Boris Johnson, and many Corbynista’s think of the Lib Dems as ‘Yellow Tories’, who propped up the Conservative Government and imposed austerity. There is also the issue of who stands down for who. Labour have always contested every seat in elections – they are a national party. So any deal would depend on the Lib Dems being the ones who take the hit, and why should they? The best remainers can hope for is an informal agreement on prioritisation. Labour and Lib Dem candidates are running everywhere, but they could organise target seats together and avoid clashes, focusing campaigning in different area.
But even this seems unlikely. Pride, distrust, and the sheer ideological difference between the parties will get in the way, and could pave the way to victory for Boris Johnson.