Farage could still come back to haunt the Tories on Brexit

15 September 2020

4:15 PM

15 September 2020

4:15 PM

Some Tory MPs are worried about a strategy that the party is apparently seriously considering adopting at the next general election. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘30-10 strategy’. The ‘30’ denotes the solid, unshakable Tory base; people who will supposedly vote for the Conservatives no matter what. The ‘10’ represents the Brexit add-ons; Ukip and Labour voters who went Tory in December 2019 because they wanted to ‘get Brexit done’. The ‘30’ can be taken for granted by nature, leading to everything being done to keep the Brexiteer ‘10’ onside. It is thought that with this solid 40 per cent of the electorate, all the Conservatives need to do is fight to get a few extra percentage points from swing voters and they can’t be defeated. Majority in 2024 guaranteed. Except, I don’t think the ‘30-10’ strategy will work. In fact, it is deeply flawed.

One reason is that these sorts of strategies have a bad recent history. A look back at Ed Miliband’s ‘35 per cent strategy’ will tell you how horribly wrong they can go. Miliband thought that if most Lib Dem voters went Labour in 2015, they could squeak ahead of the Tories in what was presumed would be a very tight race. Instead, most Lib Dem voters from 2010 went either Tory or Ukip, at least geographically where it counted. And as we all know, it was the Conservative party that ended up with a majority, not Ed Miliband’s Labour off the back of this mythical 35 per cent.

Yet there are much deeper reasons why ‘30-10’ won’t work. For a start, the Tories have misunderstood the Brexiteer ten per cent that it seems they are so doggedly trying to keep on board at the moment. I think the Tories believe they will be rewarded amongst this group for getting Brexit over the line; for not extending the transition period, and particularly for ending up in a no-deal situation.

Except, once Brexit truly is done (at least in the sense that we are out of the Single Market, and the Customs Union) the main reason for voting Tory last time round will have been taken away for this cohort. When you add to this the fact that a large chunk of the ‘10’ group are getting increasingly irritated with the government over lockdowns, masks, and the rest of the approach to the Covid crisis (as well as a perception of the Channel migrant crisis not being properly dealt with), you begin to see just how vulnerable this group is to being picked off by other parties.

That’s before we get onto how a no-deal Brexit could unfold and the effect it might have on this all-important 10 per cent. There seems to be an assumption in Tory circles that because so much of this group have called for no-deal Brexit for years now, if it happens – and it isn’t what they expected – they will just suck it up.

This isn’t how people act in reality. If no-deal Brexit is bad, they will be looking for someone to blame. The government will want to channel that blame towards the EU, which might work were it not for Nigel Farage waiting in the wings to cause trouble again for the Tories. After all, a narrative of ‘Brexit would have been wonderful if competent people had been in charge of it’ would become very powerful in the right hands.

Worse than all of that, however, is that by pursuing policies that appeal to this 10 per cent so vigorously, the Tories could watch as enough of that 30 per cent core go elsewhere at the next general election. I think the 30 per cent figure comes from what happened in 1997, as if that represents some sort of unbeatable nadir of Tory politics. I wouldn’t be so sure of that. How much of that 30 per cent ‘core’ vote Tory because they see the Conservative party as one of solid, law-abiding, sensible safety? Things like the Internal Market Bill will have some of these people thinking twice. Add a disruptive no-deal Brexit on top of everything else and soon even your core vote is melting away enough to considerably hurt your chances of a majority.

The worse-case scenario for the Tories then could see the Brexiteer 10 per cent disappear, split between some new Farage vehicle, returns to Labour, or not voting, all while somewhere between five and ten per cent of the core vote drops off, probably mostly going Labour, wooed by Starmer. That could see the Tories polling in the high 20s again. If Labour gets above 40 per cent in that instance, we could see a Labour victory of ’97 proportions.

That ‘97 all over again’ scenario is obviously pushing things to their maximum imaginable limit. I don’t think that will actually unfold. Yet I think the fact I can explain how it might plausibly happen demonstrates that the Tories should think twice about this ‘30-10’ strategy before it’s too late to turn things around.

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