Sufficient detail of the agreement made at Chequers on Friday has now emerged to make some sort of preliminary judgement. It is looking as if the offer that the government will make to the European Union will involve some sort of fudged trade deal which will involve continued EU jurisdiction over large chunks of our lives. The sovereignty of the United Kingdom will be bargained away in exchange for very little.
This is not Brexit.
In two previous articles (hereand here) I suggested that between 30 and 90 Conservative MPs were at risk of losing their seats in the event of this kind of fudge. My figures were based upon the past recorded behaviour of the electorate in each Conservative held constituency and examined the volatility of the electorate in various ways. Because of the kind of data, although it assessed risk, it was not predictive. However, we now have a BMG opinion poll (h/t Guido Fawkes) which says:
- 32% of voters would be less likely to vote Conservative if the Government agreed a deal which results in UK laws being subject to rulings by EU courts, compared to just 6% who would be more likely to support the party. Amongst Conservative voters, they would be more likely to change the party they back than increase their support by a ratio of more than 4:1 (46% to 10%)…
- More than a quarter of the public would be less likely to support the Conservative Party if a deal meant that the EU retained some or substantial control of the UK’s ability to negotiate our own free trade agreements, whilst only one in ten would be more likely to back the party.
- 27% of voters would be less likely to vote Conservative if the UK agreed to hand over billions of pounds to the EU every year as part of a free trade agreement, whilst just 9% would be more in favour of the party. Amongst Conservative voters, nearly three times as many would be less likely (35%) to support the party than more likely to vote Conservative (12%)…
It is fair to say that I have always been highly sceptical of the amount of credence we should attach to opinion polls, primarily because of their small sample sizes. However, this poll gives us an initial predictive measure of the willingness of Conservative voters to change their allegiance in the event of Brexit In Name Only (BRINO). Overall, this suggests that between about 25% to 35% of Conservative voters would consider changing their vote. This is a very large percentage and reflects the concern felt by many conservatives at the prospect of a bad deal.
There are three broad options which disaffected Conservative voters have. The first is to withhold their vote by not voting at all or by voting for a very minor party such as the Monster Raving Loony Party. This simply reduces the majority of the Conservative candidate by the number of voters who have withheld their votes from him or her.
The second option is for the voters to use their vote in the most destructive way possible to punish the Conservatives, by placing that vote with the biggest of the other parties. In the case of England, this is usually the Labour Party. By removing their votes from one party, and depositing that same vote with its nearest rivals, the voter has actually doubled the effectiveness of their single vote. This is why voters who are disgruntled with their usual party can be devastating by voting tactically. This is what happened in the 1997 General Election when Conservative voters transferred their votes to Labour and the Conservatives lost 171 seats.
The third option is to place that vote with a third party which has a reasonable electoral rationale. This would split the Conservative vote and allow the second party to win. In other cases, this will split the two main rivals and allow the third to come through from behind. The following examples will show these effects, which start by assuming a typical constituency Conservative vote of 30,000:
Case 1: Conservative votes witheld from Tories by abstention. In the baseline election, the votes might be as follows:
Tory vote: 30,000
2nd Party Vote: 21,000
Tory majority: 9,000
In the second election, one third of Conservative votes (10,000) are lost as a result of abstentions. The votes are now:
Tory votes: 20,000
2nd party votes: 21,000 (as before)
2nd party majority: 1,000
Case 2: Conservative votes (10,000) are withheld from Tories and transferred to 2nd party. The baseline votes are as in Case 1 above, so the second election results are as follows:
Tory votes: 20,000
2nd party votes: 31,000 (i.e. 21,000 + 10,000)
2nd party majority: 11,000
Case 3: Conservative votes are withheld from Tories and transferred to a third party (e.g. UKIP). The new baseline year is as follows:
Tory votes: 30,000
2nd party votes: 21,000
3rd party votes: 12,000
Tory majority: 9,000
In the second election, all of the votes withheld from the Tories are transferred to the 3rd party, not the 2nd party:
Tory votes: 20,000
2nd party votes: 21,000 (as baseline year)
3rd party votes: 22,000 (i.e. 12,000 + 10,000)
3rd party majority: 2,000
To find out the scale of the damage that this would do to the Conservative Party at Westminster, a quick calculation was conducted on the database already set up for the previous articles. Cases 1 to 3 above show that there is a minimum and a maximum loss, with many options in between. The graph below gives the maximum and minimum losses for reductions to the Conservative votes in stages of 5%, from 0 to 35%:
This model is very simple but allows for many possibilities in between the two extremes. It does not take into account of the fate of other parties. A range of possibilities can be envisaged in which a Labour government reigns supreme for a generation or more. On the other hand, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats could do relatively well and split both Labour and Conservative votes, leading to chaos in the two-party system we have been used to and some very un-British coalitions. But the take-home message of this graph is that if the BMG opinion poll is anything like a genuine indicator of conservative voter intentions, the Conservatives could lose between 129 and 260 seats. The worst-case scenario would produce a Parliamentary Conservative party of a mere 55 MPs. In this event, the Conservatives would be out of office for thirty years. My previous estimate of losses between 30 and 90 Conservative MPs looks optimistic by comparison.
Of course, there is a rescue model which could not only save the Conservative Party in Westminster from political oblivion, but even increase their majority. That option requires that the Parliamentary party discovers a spine for itself, beats some sense into the Remainer MPs who cannot see beyond their own stubborn, self-interested noses, and precipitates a leadership election to remove Theresa May from office. Her replacement must be a leader who delivers the only form of Brexit which is now possible – that of the ‘no agreement, WTO option’.
It is time for those letters to go in to Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.