A PERFECT storm is approaching the Conservative Party.
Amid the catastrophic failure of Theresa May and her Government to deliver Brexit, and then her incredibly unpopular decision to work with the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s furious voters are looking for an outlet.
Tories will feel tremors from local elections but the EU vote will be the earthquake
Leavers — who mainly vote Conservative — feel especially fed up. They tell researchers like me that Brexit has been terribly managed, their vote has been betrayed, politicians have let them down and politics is broken.
They ask: Why is Britain still in the EU and why is nobody listening?
I’ve sat in countless focus groups with voters over the years but I’ve never seen them as angry as they are today.
Mrs May and her party now face a two-punch combination that would make our heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua jealous.
The first punch will come from the local elections on Thursday. While lots of council seats are up for grabs in Labour’s northern metropolitan boroughs, which will give us a taste of what voters think about Mr Corbyn’s drift towards a soft Brexit, voters will also head to the polls in traditional “true blue” and often pro-Brexit Conservative territory.
Such is the anger over Brexit and the dismay at the state of Mrs May’s leadership that many Conservative activists are refusing to campaign, while I suspect thousands of Conservatives won’t even bother to vote.
While the latest forecasts suggest that the Conservatives could lose between 500 and 1,000 seats, I’ll be looking closely at what’s happening on the ground in pro-Brexit Conservative councils such as Medway in Kent, North Lincolnshire, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
If you see Mrs May’s vote collapsing in these kinds of areas then it’s a good sign that the Conservatives are about to face an almighty second punch at an election that will shortly follow.
Mrs May’s failure to lead Britain out of the EU and extend Article 50, rather than face a No Deal, means we are still an EU member state and as such are required to hold these elections
If local elections are the tremor, then the earthquake will arrive a few weeks later, when voters head to the polls to decide who will represent them in an institution they thought they were leaving — the European Parliament.
Mrs May’s failure to lead Britain out of the EU and extend Article 50, rather than face a No Deal, means we are still an EU member state and as such are required to hold these elections.
Unsurprisingly, most voters have not really warmed to the idea. One Conservative group in Derbyshire has even voted to go on strike, refusing to leaflet for their own party!
Who will be the big winners?
Well, Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party only launched last month but they are already cruising in the polls.
Farage, who promises “no more Mr Nice Guy”, is already attracting more than one in two Leavers, including lots of blue-collar workers and angry pensioners. He’s also eyeing votes in Labour areas, where he thinks leavers feel sold out by Labour’s drift towards a super-soft Brexit and repeated calls by Labour MPs for a second referendum.
Farage and his team have announced a “northern attack” on these pro-Brexit Labour seats, where they hope to capitalise not only on disillusionment with the lack of a Brexit, but Labour’s super-soft vision of Brexit, which I call a “Mr Whippy” Brexit.
“My priority,” says Farage, “is to go into the Labour heartlands. It’s my intention to go round South Wales, the Midlands, the North, and absolutely lay it out there, the extent to which they are being sold out [on Brexit] by Labour.”
TAKE THE BEATING
Britain’s vote for Brexit was supposed to cut down space for Farage. Instead, our MPs have somehow managed to put him on steroids. He has never looked stronger.
All of this is a massive problem for the Conservatives, who have never looked so lost and vulnerable.
Ever since Farage came back on the scene, their average support in the general election polls has tumbled to just 30 per cent.
This would be their worst result since the party and John Major were nearly wiped out by Tony Blair and New Labour in 1997.
But to make matters worse, Mrs May has already survived a vote of no confidence, so there is no clear way for the Conservatives to oust her from power and to reboot their leader and message.
Unless Mrs May resigns, all the party can do is stay in the ring and take the beating. And it looks set to be one hell of a beating.
It’s not just the Brexit Party doing well, however. An assortment of other challengers — from the Greens to the pro-Remain Change UK — are also picking up votes and squeezing the two main parties.
One of the big stories, not only in Britain but across Europe at these elections, will be the old mainstream parties coming under attack from all sides, from the national populists such as Nigel Farage, and Matteo Salvini in Italy, to pro-Remain parties such as Change UK and the German Greens.
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In Britain, the latest polls put Labour and the Conservatives together on just 45 per cent of the vote.
With the sole exception of the European elections in 2009, which were held amid the dark days of the Parliamentary expenses scandal, this would be their lowest combined share at any election in our entire national history.
As Bob Dylan once sang, the times they are a-changin’ — and who knows where they will take us next?
Reuters Unless Mrs May resigns, all the party can do is stay in the ring and take the beating. And it looks set to be one hell of a beating
PA:Press Association Ever since Farage came back on the scene, Conservatives’ average support in the general election polls has tumbled to just 30 per cent
Nigel Farage reveals his Brexit Party will push for General Election win
Matthew Goodwin is Professor of Politics, University of Kent