Last night the Liberal Democratic party delivered some early bad news to Boris Johnson and his Conservative government last night. Buoyed by the decisions of The Independent Group for Change, The Green Party and Plaid Cymru to stand down their candidates, the Liberal Democrats stole the marginal seat from the Tories. The question now is: Could this strategy work in a General Election?
Only a few months ago we saw The Brexit Party storm to victory in the European Elections with 31.6% of the vote. But while Farage and company were celebrating their victory, Liberal Democrats and other pro-Remain parties were desperately scrambling to declare themselves the victors by adding up the totals for various parties. It seems now the roles have reversed.
Indeed, in the Brecon by-election last night the sum ‘Brexit total’ – consisting of The Conservatives, The Brexit Party and UKIP – stood at 50.3%, whereas the ‘Remain total’ only numbered 43.5%, if you exclude Labour. The seat, however, went to the Liberal Democrats simply because of the absence of any alternative pro-Remain parties on the ballot.
This was no accident either, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price described the case for standing down their candidate to be “pretty compelling,” given the circumstances, and the move could now turn into a trend across the Union. MP Heidi Allen certainly hopes it will, as she looks to found a “Unite to Remain” alliance that could be a factor in a couple of hundred electoral seats. The alliance would analyse the likelihood of each respective party winning a constituency and recommend that those with less of a chance stand down their candidates to help the overall cause.
Speaking to The Independent, Allen highlighted the risk of both Johnson and Farage, and the high likelihood of another General Election as reasons for forming such an alliance. She also conceded that she was “fully prepared” to lose her own seat in South Cambridgeshire if it was deemed necessary.
Notably the SNP are not a part of this alliance, so its effect will be limited mainly to England and Wales. But as demonstrated by its test run in Brecon, there is certainly merit to the approach, if parties place value on Brexit above all else.
Another factor working to the benefit of the pro-Remain parties is that Johnson has already ruled out forming an alliance with Nigel Farage and The Brexit Party. Granted, while everything said by a politician has to be taken with a hefty grain of salt, that would doom the pro-Brexit vote to be forever split between the two main parties. Certainly Farage will never stand down whilst ever there is the slightest hint that Johnson could betray his vision of a no deal Brexit, and the Tories thus far have not committed themselves to such a proposal.
Of course, alliances are about equal cooperation and though the Liberal Democrats have benefited this time it is fair to ask the question: Would they stand down in turn if another alliance party had a better chance? Their new leader, Jo Swinson, seems to think they would, saying that “a degree of reciprocation” would be necessary in such cases.
So what does this all mean for British politics now? Well, notably, the Conservative Party’s already razor-thin majority has taken yet another blow and has shrunk to just one. That may seem fairly insignificant but multiple motions in the House of Commons have already gone down to one vote on either side, and every new one secured for the pro-Remain parties is a vital step forward.
Additionally, Tory MPs are far from homogenous in their approach to no deal and rebels such as Rory Stewart eliminate any sort of majority for a no deal Brexit in Parliament. This adds up to making Johnson’s task all the more impossible. Indeed, if Parliament must have a say over a no deal Brexit, as Speaker Bercow insists they must, then it is highly unlikely that it will pass. Add to this the record of Johnson’s predecessor in trying to pass a deal through Parliament and task looks all the more daunting.
Of course, another option, no matter how much Johnson currently denies it, is for him to hold a snap General Election. Certainly, it would be much more palatable than a second referendum, which would see Johnson branded as a traitor by the hard-Brexit wing. Plus, it would give him a chance to secure a majority of support in the House of Commons for his view on Brexit, be it deal or no deal.
If that does happen then the Remain Alliance will prove more useful than ever, and it could yet play a massive role in reshaping British politics for the foreseeable future. If it does then I’m sure all parties involved will be very thankful that they were handed such a useful dry run in Brecon.