- The roll-call of 21 rebel Conservatives from whom the whip has been removed includes two former Chancellors of the Exchequer, one of which held the office only a few weeks ago, the other being one of Margaret Thatcher’s public service reformers; four other former Cabinet Ministers (plus one “entitled to attend”); a former Attorney-General and a former Deputy Chief Whip; all the others bar one have been Ministers.
- Their expulsion leaves Boris Johnson 43 votes short of a majority. This suggests a general election sooner rather than later, and one which may well take place without Brexit having been delivered.
- Some of the 21 will stand down when it comes (including, we now read, Rory Stewart); others may fight their seats as independent conservatives; some may seek a coupon arrangement with the Liberal Democrats; some may get such a coupon and others won’t, since the LibDems will already have many candidates in place. Some may win; most probably won’t.
- Other Conservative MPs of roughly the same outlook may also go, as Keith Simpson announced he will yesterday. So will a slice of Association members – though not a large proportion of the whole, given the pro-Brexit views of most activists. The Tory MPs of the immediate future looks to be more pro-Leave than today’s are. In broad terms, the balance of the Parliamentary Party will shift rightwards.
- To be more precise, the Conservative Party’s appeal at the coming election will be pitched, even more than in 2017, to northern, older and Leave-backing voters. In a nutshell, the Party will become less economically liberal (a change that Ryan Bourne worries about in his debut column on this site today) and less socially liberal (on, say, crime and immigration). Rejoice, Nick Timothy. Despair, Liz Truss.
- If this appeal works, Boris Johnson, whose family background can fairly be described as liberal elite, will become Prime Minister of a more Trump-flavoured party, with Dominic Cummings presumably hovering in the wings: bent on delivering Brexit, more northern infrastructure, cash for “our NHS”, tough policy on crime, “an Australian-style points immigration system” and tax cuts for poorer workers.
- And it is quite possible that Johnson will succeed – at least in England, which in turn could pave the way for a second independence referendum in Scotland and a border poll in Northern Ireland.
- If he doesn’t, there will probably be no Brexit. But the Conservative membership and Parliamentary Party as both stand are unlikely to let the project go. Expect both to cling to it, as debate gathers about a permanent arrangement with the Brexit Party, for at least one more Parliament. And popular support for leaving the EU is likely to remain substantial for the forseeable future.
- It is hard to see this kind of profile playing well in London, in big parts of other cities, among ethnic minorities, younger voters and in the prosperous parts of the greater South-East in which there was a high Remain vote in 2016. The libertarian-flavoured bits of the centre-right, no less than what survives of the pro-EU Tory left, is going to struggle to have internal impact.
- It is wisdom after the event to blame Johnson for a prorogation-and-whipping gambit that seems to have failed, and which looks to have profound consequences (after all, Philip Hammond and company are now unlikely to regain the whip). But, frankly, Johnson was dammed if he did and dammed if he didn’t. The Conservatives have tried the Theresa May way – seeking to please everyone. That didn’t work either.
- The recently-appointed Prime Minister deserves his chance to put his case to the people. We backed him for the leadership precisely because we felt that, in the event of a snap election, he has the projection to pull off a surprise win – with the Brexit Party coming at him from one end, the Liberal Democrats doing so from another, the SNP on his back in Scotland, and Jeremy Corbyn waiting in the wings.
- But the Party is going to have to think very hard about what to do if Johnson doesn’t succeed, Brexit is thwarted – and a Marxist Government takes office. Maybe it should be beginning to mull about what to do if the voters won’t swallow a Canada-type approach.
- In which event, it might want to start thinking again about an option which this site has always treated respectfully but critically: EEA membership. Yes, as a policy it is deeply problematic. But in a polarised Britain in which an a la carte arrangement with the EU won’t work, but the country retains its broadly Eurosceptic orientation, a future government might have to reach for a solution which is table d’hote.
- Perhaps we are wrong in thinking that yesterday’s vote marked the end of a chapter in the Conservative story. Maybe the expulsion of the 21 will have no wider effect. Perhaps they and Johnson will kiss and make up. Maybe Tory MPs will suddenly unite around a common position. No: like you, we think none of that sounds remotely likely. Today, Conservatives walk between two worlds, “one dead. The other powerless to be born”.
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