Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.
The latest two opinion polls show the Conservatives at 16 and 15 per cent in advance of the European elections, a huge decline over the past month. Those figures are bad enough, but the actual result could be even worse.
At this point in the cycle, surveys tend to overstate support for the traditional parties. Why? Because, although the pollsters’ question is “How will you vote in the European election?” many respondents hear it as “Which is your favourite party?” Polls therefore flatter Labour and the Conservatives and underestimate single-issue parties. At this stage last time – April 2014 – opinion polls had us at 27 per cent. On polling day, we secured 23.
That, though, is just the start of it. At the last three European elections, the date of the local elections was moved to coincide with the Euro-poll (a tiny example of how our domestic traditions are forever being rearranged for the EU’s convenience). This time, because the European election was unforeseen – and, even now, might theoretically not happen – it will stand alone. The lift that Conservative Euro-candidates get from their councillors will be removed. Many of our supporters won’t vote, whereas single-issue pro- and anti-Brexit parties will have no difficulty motivating their voters.
It gets worse. Until now, the Conservatives have had resources – human and financial – to fight campaigns. This time, we have no budget and many of our activists are on strike. And that’s before we get to the central problem, namely the anger that people feel over the delay in Brexit.
We could sink into single figures next month. Keen to give us a bit of a slap, voters might knock us into a hole too deep for any future leader to clamber out of. I know that we are supposed, before an election, to talk up our party’s prospects. But, on this occasion, it would be silly to ignore the gravity of our predicament. The European election could mark the moment when, after 190 years (350 if we count the Tory prelude) the Conservative Party ceases to be viable.
That is why, though I hate the fact that this poll is happening, I felt I had to stand again. I couldn’t walk away and watch as Jeremy Corbyn, buoyed up by victory, snatched at the levers of power.
I know some ConHome readers are sceptical. I know it because they keep telling me. It’s only a European election, they say. We want to register our annoyance at the failure to deliver Brexit, they say. We don’t want to endorse Theresa May, they say. We want to send a message on Brexit, they say.
Folks, that message was sent on 23 June 2016, when more Brits voted to leave the EU than have ever voted for anything. The Conservative Party got the message. What it didn’t get was the numbers needed to implement it.
This point cannot be stressed too strongly. The reason that Brexit hasn’t yet happened is not that Tory MPs are secretly trying to keep us in the EU. It is that all the other parties (except the DUP) are openly trying to do so. If you want to break the deadlock, give us the numbers. Give us the votes.
It’s true, obviously, that a European election isn’t a general election. But what do you think will happen if one of the two main parties is wiped out at a national poll? Such a party doesn’t just get up and start winning again. Look at the Canadian Tories after they were obliterated in 1993. True, a reconfigured Centre-Right eventually came back. But whereas Canada was governed in the intervening 13 years by a relatively moderate Liberal Party, we face Jezza.
I want an agreed and amicable Brexit, one that does not involve handing the EU permanent control of our trade policy, but that keeps a close and friendly relationship. If we are going to get such a deal, we need at least some MEPs to support it.
Think of it another way. Whom would you rather have in charge of the Brexit talks – Jezza or whoever takes over as Tory leader? No, I don’t know who it will be either, but I do know that, whoever it is, he or she will be more competent than an old Trot who manages to be simultaneously in favour of and against Brexit, and whose main beef with the EU is that its competition laws would prevent him from completing a Castro-style seizure of our economy.
The Prime Minister has already said she is resigning. The only question is over timing. She might be gone before 22 May, or at least be in the process of going. A leadership contest tends to give any party a poll boost, as broadcasters and other media focus on it, and as voters keep hearing its putative leaders setting out their optimistic visions.
But if you, dear ConHome reader, decide to back someone else or to boycott the poll, there may be nothing for those putative leaders to inherit.
I have spent 30 years working to restore our national independence. I’m not prepared to drop out now, not when we are so close to success. Please – give us the support we need to get the job finished.