As you may have noticed, I didn’t do entries for days 4 and 5 of the election campaign, and I suspect I won’t for days 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, and 26 either as they’re all on weekends and I’d much rather use that time for more constructive pursuits like running, preparing to teach seminars on Mondays or binging out on episodes of Leverage. It’s also because I have a general aversion to watching the Sunday politics show — or to be more accurate, my partner and my neighbours have an aversion to me shouting “stop lying and just answer the bloody question!” whenever I watch them.
But it’s also because weekends are often minor pauses in the rhythm of an election campaign. I don’t mean that campaigning stops, but more that thing settle down to a more manageable level. The general assumption is that the news cycle is at its peak during weekdays, and so all the big election news and announcements happen between Monday and Friday, possibly because even the most hardened campaigner wouldn’t do much on a Saturday or Sunday night.
Which is why Monday featured Nigel Farage announcing that he was standing down the up to 317 Brexit Party candidates who’d been chosen to run in seats the Conservatives won at the last election. It’s an interesting decision, and one that did appear to be a big game-changer that put the Tories in a strong position, but it’s one that could play out in a number of ways, not all of which lead to Boris Johnson in a post-Brexit Downing Street signing off the papers to send Nigel Farage to the Lords.
Sure, it could lead to exactly that. Convinced now that Johnson is offering a “real Brexit” all or most of the people who’d planned to vote for the Brexit Party could now switch to backing the Conservatives, other voters stay roughly where they are, and the combined force of Leave voters means the Tories defend most of their existing seats and gain a swathe of leave-leaning Labour-held seats in the North and Midlands.
Alternatively, shoring up the Leave flank of the Tory coalition might weaken the Remain side of it, causing more of those voters to move to the Liberal Democrats/Unite to Remain candidates, meaning that the Tories lose a swathe of seats across London, the south of England and in Scotland that aren’t replaced by the gains in the north and Midlands leading to another hung Parliament, only this time with fewer paths to a Tory-led Commons majority and more to a Labour-led one.
Or, it might lead to a nightmare scenario for Johnson where not only does he scare off the Tory Remainers, the shock of this announcement forces Labour and the Liberal Democrats to begin emergency talks on how to counter it leading to an expansion of the Unite to Remain pact that then sweeps the Conservatives out of power. Add to that the danger of Johnson finding himself being linked so closely to Farage, and through him to Trump’s call for the two of them to work together, and the picture suddenly isn’t as rosy as it might have seemed a few hours ago.
However, while I wouldn’t want to choose between the first two possibilities, I don’t think the third is likely, because even while the crude maths of alliances might make a Labour-Lib Dem deal seem attractive, it’s a case where any official deal would damage both parties current voter base. Both parties are basing their pitch to voters on not being the other — the Liberal Democrats are attracting both Tory-leaning remainers and Labour-leaning remain/anti-Corbyn voters by being pro-EU and anti-Corbyn, while Labour are picking up those previously politically disengaged by promising not to be like the coalition and not to break promises like the Liberal Democrats. Any formal or obvious informal pact between the two runs the risk of destroying their current voter base in the hope they can get people to tactically shift to a party they’ve been demonising for ages.
That said, it is in the interest of both parties — and their allies — to at least recognise that mutual non-aggression is in all their interests and to concentrate any negative campaigning on using Farage to weaken Johnson. The number of seats where Labour and the Liberal Democrats are in direct competition is low enough to be not much more than a rounding error, and maybe today’s news might be enough to make them recognise that they have a bigger common enemy.