Boris Johnson is right about the extinction of the Tory Party — almost
As the candidates for the British Tory Party lined up for the One Nation group’s hustings, each was being careful not to upset a key caucus within the party — but with a party so divided, that is almost impossible. Naturally, it was Johnson who used the classic tactic of using a half truth.
The former Foreign Secretary and darling of the populist hard right wing of the party told MPs, “We [The Conservative Party] will not be forgiven if we do not deliver Brexit on October 31”.
Brexit is the defining political issue for a generation in the UK and it would have been impossible for the man who led the Leave campaign not to have addressed it. Indeed, the whole debacle only surfaced due to decades of splits within the Conservative Party — splits which were meant to be overcome by the holding of the referendum.
According to Johnson, “We need to realise the depth of the problems we face. Unless we get on and do this thing, we will be punished for a very long time. There is a very real choice between getting Brexit done and the potential extinction of this great party.”
However, Johnson is only facing half of the issue — a significant amount of the Conservative Party is not in favour of his no deal and, given a free choice, would not be Brexiting at all.
The real depth of the problems the Conservative Party faces surrounds the fact that the referendum solved nothing for the party and it remains as split as it ever was. Delivering Brexit will damage it as much as not delivering Brexit.
In the recent European Parliament elections, the Conservative vote fell to a historic low of 9% and a significant number of loyal Conservative voters moved — to the pro-Brexit Brexit party and the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats. Therein lies the proof of the issue.
Actually, this is re-statement of the results of the unnecessary General Election that Theresa May called in 2017, in which she lost her majority. The loyal Tory vote is no longer the loyal Tory vote — it has been pushed to vote elsewhere and, once you have done that, it becomes much easier to do it again.
Traditional Tory voters, when faced with a choice of a Tory Party committed to delivering some form of Brexit, a party committed to delivering no deal and a party committed to delivering Remain has decided that they are split three ways. Contrary to Johnson’s view, delivering Brexit is likely to destroy the Conservative Party — although destroying a party polling 9% isn’t exactly hard.
The reality is that Johnson would deliver a split within the party that would see it polling in the 20–30% range — an electoral result that would ensure that it could not form a majority. The stark reality is that his lies and contorted half truths have literally created this situation and that it is one that it is impossible for him to escape from.
The closest that anybody in the leadership race has come to facing the truth is International Development Secretary, Rory Stewart, who said “No more unicorns, no more red lines, no more promises we can’t deliver”. The Tories need to come to terms with their unicorns. And Johnson is not the answer.