The ‘rebel alliance’ could build a brick wall between Boris Johnson and a General Election victory

Westminster Government Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture by Annika Haas (CC BY 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

After weeks of bad news, those opposed to a hard or no-deal Brexit have been full of glee this week as new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stumbled from one PR disaster and parliamentary defeat to another.

This has come about thanks to a so-called ‘rebel alliance’ of parties at Westminster – compromising Labour, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, Greens, Liberal Democrats, disaffected Tory MPs, and various independents.

Despite these legislative victories, however, I think people are becoming too rather excited about Boris Johnson’s bad week, particularly in the influence it will have on public opinion.

As Trump has shown in the United States, when politics is very polarised, competence matter for less. People would rather an incompetent who agrees with them than a very competent leader who does not.

Voters who desperately want to Leave the EU are unlikely to turn to Jeremy Corbyn because Boris Johnson looks flustered or is having a hard time at Westminster.

The only thing that would truly get rid of Boris Johnson is if he loses the General Election, which it seems will now take place in October or November.

And if you look past the day to day headlines and at the polls, there’s no real suggestion that he’s likely to lose. The Conservatives remain stubbornly around 8% ahead of Labour in the polls and their lead is on the upward trajectory.

Even as the polls stand, the Conservatives are heading for victory. And as voting day approaches, and they remain committed to Brexit at all costs, they are likely to continue to squeeze the Brexit Party vote and could even win a healthy majority.

The Labour leadership are also raring to go, believing that once a General Election is called their polling will rebound as it did at the 2017 election, when supporters of other parties flocked back to them as a way of defeating Theresa May.

Their support will no doubt grow as the media focuses increasingly on the two main parties as the election approaches. But it’s unlikely to happen to as significant a degree as in 2017 the same reason it didn’t happen during the EU Elections in May.

The General Election will be deliberately framed by Boris Johnson as a referendum on Brexit, and Labour’s ambiguity on the question means that a significant chunk of the Remain vote is likely to remain with other parties, most notably the Liberal Democrats.

The consequences of the lack of a united front by parties opposed to a hard or no-deal Brexit cost Remain dear at the EU Elections. The vast majority of the Leave vote went to one party – the Brexit Party – and the Remain vote split three or four ways.

In a First Past the Post election, the consequences of splitting the vote would be even more costly. If they can unite the Leave and split the Remain vote, as they now appear to be doing, the Conservatives could pick up seats even in areas where Remain voters are in the majority.

Support for a no-deal Brexit is in the minority in the country, but that matters for little under FPTP if the Conservatives are able to win a majority on only 30-40% of the vote, as they did in 2015.

Shift the dial

However, the ‘rebels’ could quite easily stop Boris Johnson from claiming a majority by learning from their success at Westminster and keeping their alliance going in key target seats at the General Election.

The recent Brecon and Radnorshire by-election showed the way forward in this regard. If there is a clear frontrunner among Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP or Plaid Cymru in a seat that is vulnerable to the Conservatives or could realistically be taken off them, the other parties could step aside.

In Wales, this would include Labour seats targeted by the Conservative such as Wrexham, Vale of Clwyd, Gower, Cardiff North, Delyn and Bridgend.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, should be given a free run at Montgomeryshire, and Labour Preseli Pembrokeshire.

Plaid Cymru, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have also been in talks about not challenging each other in seats that could be won from both the Conservatives and Labour.

If this pattern was repeated across the UK, a brick wall could quite easily be constructed against a parliamentary majority for a no-deal or hard Brexit.

In all other seats which are contests between Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and others, or in three-way marginals, they could continue to contest them as usual.

Under First Past the Post, marginal differences can have a huge impact, and any kind of understanding between the parties opposed to a hard or no-deal Brexit would shift the dial in a big way.

This probably won’t happen, of course, because the parties’ supporters are simply too tribal to set aside their differences.

But at least they cannot claim, as they did at the EU Elections, that they were caught on the hop and didn’t have time to come to any kind of agreement.

Everyone knows the election is coming. The time to get organised is now. There is little point in rebelling against Boris Johnson’s no deal now only to hand him victory in the General Election.

The only effect, ultimately, would be to delay a hard or no-deal Brexit by a few more months.

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jr humphrysCapMSteve DugganWyn DaviesJonathan Edwards Recent comment authors
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Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

I have always found the idea of “making deals” between competing parties to help rig the results distasteful, dishonest and undemocratic in nature. Nevertheless, the question in my mind is – will Plaid Cymru embrace ‘taking it to the people’ and vote in favour of a general election on Monday? Or do they lack confidence that their Brexit-breaking maneuvers and alliances will find enough support among the Welsh? I suspect the latter.

CapM
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CapM

Surely there’s been enough comment, discussion as well as explanation from the opposition parties for anyone to understand that delaying a general election is part of the strategy being employed to try and ensure that the government request the EU for an extension of the October 31st deadline. Now you might not agree with the aim but the strategy of not letting the government wriggle out via a general election is a pretty obvious necessity given the players involved and looks an astute move. Corbyn has already been called a “Chicken” by Johnson. As though what is being enacted is… Read more »

Simon Gruffydd
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Simon Gruffydd

So in other words, the Remainer alliance, (to give them a name), are aware that they do not have the enough support to prevail democratically so they prefer undemocratic tactics to impose their will. That pretty much sums up the whole EU project. It also explains why the majority of Welsh and English voted for democracy over technocracy in 2016.

CapM
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CapM

Since the “Remainer alliance” includes the SNP which senses wiping the Tories out in Scotland and so is very keen on a quick general election your theory can only at best be partially correct. Both sides in this affair are using the intricacies and absurdities of the UK’s – not is, nor ever was fit for purpose unwritten constitution. You should acknowledge that what’s happening is an example of the UK’s sovereignty in action and note that it’s being exercised while we are currently a member of the EU. Your version of democracy sees the “will of the people”(to borrow… Read more »

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards

Yes, I’ll have to vote Labour in Preseli. What is irritating is that Labour will not formalise this, and stand down in favour of Plaid or Lib Dem candidates. I am doing something for the wider good – keep Wales in EU. Labour only think of themselves. That’s what comes of Plaid not having built a better platform in Wales. Don’t equate Trump and Johnson. Trump is solving American problems in a way which is valid in America. He palpably works hard, is effective and cares about his country, not drawing the salary etc. OK he’s not universally liked in… Read more »

jr humphrys
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jr humphrys

V. much agree. May I add, if Trump loses next election, and should Johnson have got US deal, the UK will be
stuck with both a deal and possibly hostile President in the oval office? This, after right-Tory moaning for eons about authoritarian EU. What a bitter laugh!

Wyn Davies
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Wyn Davies

People voted to leave shame on those party’s who want to stop.it

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

It has to be stopped – why should anyone lose their job just to honour a vote over 3 years ago? If you were likely to lose your job I very much doubt you would be so keen to leave.

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

Remain parties have to work together or, as the article states, we will not stop a no deal Brexit just push it to the end of January. Labour are the problem, still ambiguous, sitting on the fence. Corbyn just wants to become PM so I very much doubt the Remain Alliance will still be together come the Election unless Labour MPs force Corbyn and Maclusky to act.