Why Farage standing down in Tory seats is not the big Conservative boost it looks like
Ifan Morgan Jones
When Nigel Farage announced that the Brexit Party would not be standing in Tory held seats the immediate reaction by many political pundits was that it was a huge boost for the Conservatives.
The odds of a Tory majority flew up as everyone hurried to put their bets on before anyone else had a chance to react.
This announcement had been coming for some time – one only had to read the right-leaning Sunday papers such as the Sun, Daily Mail and Telegraph to spot that significant pressure was being put on Farage not to split the pro-Brexit vote.
However, I’m not sure how much good this announcement will actually do Boris Johnson.
Nigel Farage is a very wily political operator and while he can use this announcement to get the critics off his back it actually serves his own ends rather than the Conservatives’.
The polls currently suggest that Boris Johnson will get his majority. The alternative is a huge upswing in the Labour party’s polling number and a downswing in the Conservative Party’s numbers, as happened in 2017.
But there’s no suggestion as to why 2019 should follow the pattern of 2017, and I think pundits may be overcompensating for their failure to spot 2017 in how they expect this election to go.
Boris Johnson called an election to get a majority, and if he gets anything less than a majority he is just as much of a one-legged duck as Theresa May was.
Nigel Farage’s goal, meanwhile, is not to help Johnson towards a majority but to secure a No Deal Brexit. If Boris Johnson wins a majority in the General Election, he won’t get that as the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal will sail through.
So what is going through Nigel Farage’s head?
Well, he will be thinking that if a 5-10 point or so Conservative polling lead over Labour is the most likely result on election day, then Tory seats aren’t in that much danger anyway.
Yes, there are realistically around 10-15 seats that the Liberal Democrats could take off the Conservatives if they manage a swing on par with that in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.
But in the grand scheme of things those seats, even if the Lib Dems win them all, are only a small part of the bigger picture.
What the Conservatives really need to do to win a majority is take around 30-40 or so Labour seats. They are currently on course to win around 90.
In that context, Farage’s move isn’t particularly helpful to them. Because instead of spending resources on seats that will be relatively safe for the Conservatives if they have any realistic hope of a majority, the Brexit Party will be investing resources in the Lab/Con marginals the Conservatives really, really need to win a majority.
The result of this targetting will likely be, as Farage fully intends, another hung parliament, with no chance of a coalition Lab/Lib government pushing through a second referendum but no chance of Boris Johnson’s deal getting through either.
Farage is technically making it harder for Labour to beat the Conservatives, yes. Although realistically Labour have little hope of doing so anyway.
But what he is also doing is making it harder for the Conservatives to beat Labour.
So this ‘capitulation’ to the Conservative party is actually a win-win for Nigel Farage, and not much help to Boris Johnson.