Britain is not leaving the EU at 11pm tonight. Will we leave in three months? Maybe.
One of the big fears of those opposed to a general election is that it won’t change anything. Voters may simply return a Commons with almost the exact same makeup as the current one, doomed to dodge and delay even more.
– Brexodus –
Yet a quick glance at today’s papers shows why that won’t be the case. Not because a hung parliament is unlikely, far from it. But because the exodus of MPs means the Commons that emerges on the morning of December 13 will be very different from the one that dissolves on Tuesday.
The numbers are not yet at historically high levels – the recent record of 149 came in 2010 following the expenses scandal – but there are a significant number of former and current ministers, such as Nicky Morgan, quitting in the prime of their careers.
This highlights Parliament’s serious problem with retaining experience. Few are the former ministers willing to hang around and use their past successes and failures to ensure Parliament does its job of scrutinising legislation well.
That ministers are quitting before their executive careers are even over is a new twist. And it’s no good thing as Britain heads towards a decade of potentially epoch-defining rulemaking.
– The widening of the political divide –
Yet this spate of retirements also brings its own unique consequences. For both the Tories and Labour it will mean an ideological purification. Labour quitters are likely to be replaced by Corbynite true believers, Tories by fully paid-in Brexiteers.
That will solidify the Corbynite grip on Labour and perhaps dash any remaining hopes the moderates had of the party returning to the days of Blair. We’ll have to wait and see whether it harms their electoral prospects.
For the Conservatives, it raises a rather urgent matter. Already the resignations of Morgan, Dame Caroline Spellman, Claire Perry, Seema Kennedy and at least 12 other centrist Tories are being dubbed an “exodus of the moderates”.
While much has been made of Number 10’s “people vs Parliament” narrative, the Conservatives know that they are at risk of losing dozens of southern seats. The more they can keep hold of, the better. But as the moderate resignations pile up, the party risks losing any claims to being a liberal party.
If what’s left is the socially-conservative northern wing and the hardline, Singapore-on-Thames, ultra-Thatcherite fringe, the Tories could find themselves in serious electoral trouble. Johnson might claim to be a One Nation Tory, but nearly half of that caucus of MPs is already gone.
– Vote Brexit Party, get what exactly? –
Yet it’s not just a possible Orange Wave that worries Tory strategists. They also have to concern themselves with the Brexit Party. The Prime Minister knows the significance of today and so will spend it trying to divert blame for not having left the EU yet.
The Brexit Party itself is in a social media blackout as the party tries to figure out what it should do. There are worries that if it stands across the country it will simply cost the Tories seats and make Brexit less likely. Some in the party want to focus on a handful of seats instead.
If they do opt for the latter, it will be seen as a massive boost for Johnson’s election campaign. But how much will it matter?
Compare 2015 and 2017. A huge Ukip vote in the former didn’t stop the Tories from winning a majority, which came courtesy of 27 gains from the Lib Dems, but a very small revival by the Lib Dems two years later helped strip them of it.
Jo Swinson’s party are now polling at double their 2017 figures. That’s just another reason why this election is so hard to predict.