If the EU elections today prove anything, then it’s the maxim that divided parties don’t win elections. Added to that, there’s the other cardinal rule that if you don’t know what you’re for, then neither will the voter.
The Tories will be the biggest losers as the cracks widen ever further. But as the opposition – who normally would have inherited votes by default – Labour will also pay a heavy price. Success will come to those who’ve stayed united and with a clear message. All elections have a variety of factors at play, but this election’s come down to Remain or Brexit.
In that the Brexit Party, by their very name, have an advantage even in Scotland. Likewise, the SNP have been clear for Remain and will benefit with support even from those who don’t want a second independence referendum. In England, and to a lesser extent in Scotland, the Greens and Libs Dems will also prosper from a coherent position.
But where the final outcome of the election leaves us, who knows? You can’t extrapolate the EU results straight across to Westminster or Holyrood. I recall SNP votes rising in the 2009 EU poll only for the electoral tide to ebb by the 2010 general election.
Similarly, the Brexit Party’s success will be hard to sustain in a general election with far wider policy issues. That said, the outcome of the poll this time is likely to be much more profound, as not just the two-party system but parties themselves that break apart.
It’s hard to see how the Tories can remain together in their current entity. Brexit’s the rock upon which the ‘grand old party’ of British politics is finally being broken. When a grandee like Michael Heseltine, once the conference darling, is suspended then a rubicon has been crossed. Will he be allowed back and more importantly will he even want back? With the likely next leader either Boris Johnson or another Brexiteer, it’s possible it is more than just the Cabinet after Westland that he’ll walk away from. And where does that put others such as John Major or even Philip Hammond?
For the blood is up amongst the faithful and a ghastly defeat to the Brexit Party’s likely to see them demand an even harder EU line. That’s not unusual in politics. It’s actually normal in most political parties to seek solace after an electoral defeat in the old-time religion. Labour have done it by moving left and the SNP by demanding independence and nothing less. The Tories though were always more pragmatic and less ideological.
But that’s all changed with the pursuit of power now replaced by the delivery of the zealotry for those who believe in the dawning of the new British Empire. Sometimes in political parties, the defeated faction just retreat to the backbenches and either nurse their wrath or await for a turn in the political tide.
But these are not normal times and this is too deep and profound for that. The Tories, after all, are in Government and the new leader will be Prime Minister. The consequences of Brexit will define the country for years, if not generations to come. Politicians can bend – as with Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid, moving from Remain to Brexit – to try and position for the leadership contest but it will be unacceptable for many. Some such as Dominic Grieve have already made it clear that they can’t imagine serving under Johnson. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how he and many others can even stay in the same party.
For the Scots Tories, going it alone is long overdue. It’s normal in Germany or Canada and about the only way they can avoid being washed away in the debacle that’s coming the Tories way north of the border. But south of the border a parting of the ways is also essential, but to where or what for the defeated faction? It may be fewer in party members but it still has a huge hinterland amongst business and with ordinary supporters.
Labour are also struggling and should remember that once people switch off voting for you, it’s hard to get them back and when it’s leading party members or long-time stalwarts, alarm bells must surely ring.
Change UK will bomb and rightly so as they’ve been incoherent and appear divided, nevermind seemingly having no clue about where Scotland even is. But there’s still an opportunity for a Macron-type scenario as the old order breaks down.
Once the votes are all counted, if not dead, the big parties will be severely wounded. It’s not worked for Chuka Umunna but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t work for someone else. In Scotland, the SNP will get some momentum but beyond that it’s hard to see where it takes Indyref2. Warding off the Brexit Party’s one thing, a more palatable party surge is quite another.