The Demise of the Tory Party 

LIAM DOWNER-SANDERSON: For years, the British Conservative Party has been divided between supporters and skeptics of the European Union. Those rifts came to head during the 2015 election campaign when former Prime Minister David Cameron promised his colleagues a referendum on membership of the European Union. Cameron's decision was cemented in British political history when, in June 2016, the British people defied expectations by voting to leave the E.U. 

The split on the E.U. now threatens the Tory Party’s ability to contest future elections. 

Not since World War II has any British government been faced with a more monumental task than delivering Brexit. It is therefore not suprising that the government, with a divided Parliament and led by a weak Prime Minister, has failed on multiple levels to achieve the promises made in the 2017 Conservative Manifesto with regard to Brexit. 

Here are some of the key promises: 

  • Exit the European single market and customs union but seek a "deep and special partnership" with European nations, including comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.

  • Agree on terms of withdrawal future partnership with E.U. within the two years.

  • Seek to replicate all existing EU free trade agreements.

So far, the government has failed to deliver on all three.

To be fair, the circumstances that surrounded Theresa May and her government have been tremendously complicated. But politics is an unforgiving sport.  The likely consequences of this sorry saga . . .

If the government continues to exacerbate the current crisis, leave voters will find themselves further distanced from establishment politics. Without considering individual intentions, the Tory party will be labeled traitorous and the "enemy of the people.” Discussing the failure to deliver upon the referendum result, one Tory Brexiteer MP described to me his fear of being "wiped out" at the next election. He continued, "Politics is all about trust; once lost, it is nigh on impossible to recover". Betrayal is one of the most bitter emotions. Those Tory voters who believed the Conservatives were the only party who could be trusted to deliver Brexit on the 29th March 2019 will struggle to forgive the party for at least a generation. 

Both Labour and Conservative voters who strongly backed the Leave campaign find themselves without a party to support at the next election. With Labour backing a second referedum, and the Tories extending article 50 without direction, there is no place for such a signficant group of voters. Intending to take advantage of the situation taking shape, Nigel Farage, the architect of mobilizing the anti-establishment vote for the Brexit campaign, is making a return to the forefront of British politics.

Cue the Brexit Party. The Brexit Party stands ready to advocate for Brexit and in the short-term plans to fight the European elections if the United Kingdom is still in the E.U. by the 22nd of May, which is seeming increasingly likely.  A significant portion of those who voted or the UK Independence Party in 2015, about 12.5 percent of the electorate, will undoubtedly vote for them again. Any voters who no longer feel they owe their loyalty to the two-party system after this Brexit 'mess' will join them.

According to polls, when asked whether you would support remaining in the EU, accepting May's deal, or leaving the EU without a deal, a solid 30% of the public support no deal. This would suggest that support for a Brexit Party focused on delivering Brexit at any cost could gather close to 30% of the electorate. In the last 20 years, within a two-party system, the party leading the government has received around 35 to 40 percent of the vote. If the Brexit party were to take votes away from both major parties, it seems plausible that they could hold serious sway at a general election. Even if they were not the largest party, they could force one of the major parties into coalition. It should be said, however, that this development relies on a few assumptions, including May's government failing to find a solution to the Brexit crisis in the next few weeks, the Labour party failing to endorse a pro-Brexit line, and the distribution of votes for the Brexit party allowing them to win a sizeable number of constituencies.

Having voted to rule out no deal, and insisting on a deal without realistic support, Theresa May is endangering the future of the Conservative Party. The absence of direction and betrayal of a democratic mandate represents the opposite of everything that Britain should be. At this late stage, the Tories must seek a change of leadership if they want any chance of salvaging the horror show that has been the last few years. With so little time left however, the demise of the party seems on the cards, either through the rise of the Brexit party, or a somewhat effective Labour party.  

Jeff Cirillo