6 August 2019

It’s not just the Tories who should worry about the Brexit Party

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Those of us who follow the Brexit Party on Twitter have seen our timelines bombarded over recent days. The party has been making hundreds of announcements naming candidates in different constituencies. It is sending out a message – one sure to be noticed by sitting MPs – that could be summed up in the proverb: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.

The threat is simple enough – to wreak vengeance on any MPs who try to get in the way of leaving the EU.

Although Nigel Farage had already declared his party would fight every seat, some might have been sceptical over how he would manage it. After all, here is a pop up Party without much of a grassroots organisation. What if they were caught on the hop by an early election?

It is not that Farage and Co dismiss the prospect of us leaving by October 31st as promised, more that they wish to provide an insurance policy. One suspicion is that the EU might compromise and then a new version of Theresa May’s deal might be approved that still fell short of the true independence of a proper Brexit. Another worry for them is that even if Boris Johnson does his best to honour his undertaking he is scuppered by parliamentary manoeuvres and an early General Election is called to resolve matters.

There has been lots of comment on the date for any motion of no confidence and when any subsequent election would take place. What if Speaker Bercow did this? What if The Queen did that? Supposing we had an election on a Friday instead of a Thursday?

Before any of this becomes relevant there is the important matter of whether Labour wants an election before Brexit anyway. The seepage of Remainers to the Lib Dems is clear enough. But that is not the end of Jeremy Corbyn’s woes. The announcement of the Brexit Party’s candidates over the last week underlines just how many of their prime targets are seats with Labour MPs.

They certainly plan to make good on Farage’s pledge and select candidates for every seat in England, Scotland and Wales (I understand they plan to give Northern Ireland a miss). But where they end up actually fielding candidates would not need to be finally decided until the close of nominations. It would seem perverse that they would stand against those Tory Eurosceptics who voted against May’s Withdrawal Agreement three times, the likes of Steve Baker, Mark Francois and the new Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

The big push will be in constituencies which had a high Leave vote in the referendum and where the incumbent MP is a Remainer. Most of these will be Labour seats.

The first batch of 50 seats they announced included the news that Colin Lambert is standing for them in Heywood and Middleton. He is the former Labour leader of Rochdale council who announced he had left “after nearly 40 as it is simply not the party I joined”. Tom Bewick, standing in Hastings and Rye, is another defector from Labour.

Others that they highlighted include Nick Brown, who is standing in Bishop Auckland. Scrolling down the list we see places in Doncaster and Dudley, Sunderland and Stoke, Redcar and Rother Valley. Often they are prioritising not just seats that Labour won last time, but supposedly “safe” Labour seats. Places where, if the European elections were any guide, Labour are genuinely vulnerable.

The choice of candidates seeks to resonate with two themes. Firstly to avoid those from the “political class” in favour of people with “real world” experience, such as entrepreneurs. Secondly, there is a clear attempt to challenge assumptions about the party being a bunch of disaffected Tories or Little Englander blimps. Women and ethnic minorities are strongly represented.

Jordan Lake, who is standing in Redditch is championed for being a gay man as well as an entrepreneur in the creative industries. Alaric Bamping is standing in Dartford. He used to be in the Socialist Workers Party, where he was previously an organiser for the Anti Nazi League and the Right to Work Marches. Jessica Swift, standing in Grantham and Stamford is a transwoman.

Sadhana Stokes, standing for Charnwood is a businesswoman with an allotment, whose family were kicked out of Uganda by Idi Amin. Raj Singh Chaggar, a Wolverhampton candidate is a committee member of his local Sikh Temple. Alexander Waugh, standing for Bridgwater and West Somerset, might look more like he fits the stereotype. But his father Auberon used to be rather a fan of the EU.

In the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election there was an assumption that the Brexit Party split the Tory vote. But much of the Brexit Party backing came from retired coal miners who had previously voted Labour. It has been noted that the Labour vote collapsed.

The upshot is that it is not just the Conservative Party who should be worried about the Brexit Party. Labour should be too. Many Labour MPs have spotted this, even if the media has not.

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Harry Phibbs is a freelance journalist