BY JAMIE FOSTER
What to do about the Brexit Party? As Nigel Farage addressed a rally of 5500 of his supporters on Sunday, the question once more raised its head about how the Tories should deal with the challenge of his new and vibrant party.
Farage and his party – so they say – will be targeting at the next General Election both Tory and Labour seats that had a high Leave vote in the referendum. This seems unnecessary if our Tory friends wake up to the dual threats of Corbyn’s Labour and no-Brexit-extinction confronting them.
It will be important to focus the Brexit Party fire solely on Labour seats while preventing the Brexit Party vote from splitting the Tory votes in Tory seats. In the end the best course of action is likely to be some sort of a deal, as these are exceptional circumstances that might well necessitate one. The Tories could agree to allow the Brexit Party to stand unopposed in key Labour seats in exchange for the Brexit Party agreeing not to challenge key Tory seats. This could have the advantage to the Brexit Party of making it more likely for them to actually win seats while keeping their tanks off Tory lawns, where a split vote would only assist Remain Lib Dems and Marxist Labour. For this to happen – and it’s not in the nature of Tories to make such deals – CCHQ needs to lose its Remain bias and Boris needs to win the leadership election.
The alternative is that the Tories align behind Boris and remember to shapeshift – a characteristic that has given the party such extraordinary longevity.
From a purely Brexit point of view, it is certainly not in the Brexit Party’s interest to allow a Corbyn government – which is as good as backing Remain and will result in a split of the union – anywhere near the levers of power. Farage himself has raised the issue of a deal with the Tories. It can only be in the Tories’ interest to make the most of the threat from the Brexit Party, as failing to do so will let Corby in by default. If Boris is the new leader he can reach out to the Brexit Party by saying that their goals are his goals and the best way to achieve them is for a Tory government to implement them.
The Brexit Party has some inherent weaknesses and is not immune from a UKIP-style annihilation – but such a wipe-out would actually not be in the interests of the Tories if they think smart here. Certainly some Tories are licking their lips at the prospect of wiping the Brexit Party and Farage from the political map but they should hold fire.
There is clearly a democratic deficit with the Brexit party base being a subscriber base not a membership. The Party is just an extension of the Nigel Farage show, which needs the cash. There are no outstanding candidates and many of the candidates, like Ann Widdecombe, are not in it for the long haul, planning on leaving when Brexit is achieved. The strength of the party is that it taps into the anger and frustration felt by Leave voters about the progress of Brexit – their disgust at May and dislike of Corbyn’s Marxist freak show. If that passion can be directed behind Boris at the same time as keeping Boris honest on Brexit it could be a real force for good, while helping to put Labour’s Hard Left back in its box. where it ought to stay forever for the benefit of us all.
Whether it is possible to do a deal with the Brexit Party and the extent to which it is a good idea depends largely on Farage. If he takes a grown-up position, a deal could work very well but if he decides that attention overrides other considerations then he could still go on a Tory-bashing spree which would let Corbyn in. It is impossible to predict how he will behave but this shouldn’t make a deal impossible. Even those one might describe as High Tories in this office seem willing to effect some kind of a compact, and agree that for such an olive branch manoeuvre to be successful CCHQ needs a drastic revamp, and to hire some worthy number crunchers; for there to be an in-house revolution as there was under Caplin.
If both sides concentrate on their mutual interests there is a lot that could be achieved by a Tory deal with the Brexit Party. It should be possible to focus on maximising the Leave vote and its potential, while shanking the horror show that calls itself Labour.