Why Brexit party supporters are vital to Boris Johnson’s election hopes – Professor John Curtice

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage suspects any deal Boris Johnson reaches with the EU will be little better than Theresa May's
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage suspects any deal Boris Johnson reaches with the EU will be little better than Theresa May's
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Holding a snap general election is not without its potential risks for Boris Johnson. But if he can win round the support of more Leave voters he could secure the overall majority that would make his parliamentary life much easier.

Although support for the Conservatives stands on average in the polls at just 34 per cent, thanks to the dire position in which Labour find themselves (on 25 per cent) that is still enough to put the Tories nine points ahead.

However, while that may well be enough for the Tories to pick up 30 or so seats from Labour they could well lose seats to the revived Liberal Democrats (on 18 per cent) together with the SNP north of the border.

Taking into account all the possible swings and roundabouts a nine-point lead might deliver no more than a small Tory overall majority – and there is no guarantee that it would do even that.

To be sure of a comfortable majority Mr Johnson will need to open a bigger lead. He has already had considerable success in doing so. Support for the Conservatives has increased on average by nine points since the new Prime Minister took over in July.

All of that advance has occurred among Leave voters, including many who were hitherto supporting Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. They have evidently been won over by Mr Johnson’s “do or die” approach to leaving the EU at the end of October.

However, there are still as many as one in four Leave voters who back the Brexit Party. Mr Johnson’s hopes of winning a comfortable majority rest on reducing that proportion ever further.

That implies winning the argument about Brexit with Nigel Farage. The Brexit Party leader believes Britain should simply leave without a deal. Mr Johnson, in contrast, only embraces the prospect of a no-deal Brexit because he believes it will give him the leverage to secure an acceptable deal.

Mr Farage suspects that any deal may well be little better than the one that Theresa May brought back. And he may well ask whether Leave voters should trust the Conservatives to deliver Brexit given their track record so far.

It is these arguments that Mr Johnson will have to counter. Doubtless his willingness to put his premiership on the line in order to keep open the possibility of a no-deal Brexit will help him in that quest. Even so, as others have discovered, taking on Nigel Farage can be quite a challenge.

John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University