One thing is keeping the temperature among Tory MPs in check: the government’s poll lead. It’s hard to claim that this or that event has been an election losing disaster when the opposition is still behind.
The explanation for why the Tories are ahead despite such a torrid summer holds the key to what will happen this autumn, as I argue in the magazine this week. To one of those involved with the Tories’ 2019 election victory, the answer is obvious: the party has a core vote of 30 per cent to which it has added another 10 per cent who are Brexit enthusiasts.
This analysis would encourage the Tories to prioritise their Brexit coalition. They would not want to give any ammunition to those who are eager to cry ‘Brexit betrayed’ at any deal. They would want to avoid spurring the creation of a new party dedicated to pushing for a total Brexit and a more vigorous approach to the culture war, the small boats crossing the Channel and the like. If there was a new party to the populist side of them, the Tories would find their poll rating, 43 per cent with YouGov, coming closer to their approval rating, 30 per cent. In these circumstances, Labour would likely push ahead of them in the polls.
But there is another reading of the current political situation favoured by some Tories in Johnson’s orbit. It puts the thumping Tory victory in 2019 down to ‘Get Brexit done’ and the deficiencies of Jeremy Corbyn. This school of thought thinks that the potency of the slogan came not just from people’s desire to see the referendum result delivered but their keenness to move on, to stop the endless debate about the subject. These Tories worry that a no-deal Brexit might leave these voters irritated that this issue is once again at the top of the agenda and crowding out everything else.
Ultimately which of these two interpretations of the Tories’ political position Boris Johnson takes will be key. It will determine how far he is prepared to go to get a deal with the EU.
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