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