Yesterday was a bad day for Boris Johnson. In the chamber, he looked and sounded terrible; a performance that could be described as sub-May, and I didn’t even think that could be a thing 24 hours ago. I liken it to a rap battle in which MCs like Dominic Grieve and Yvette Cooper were spitting flows while Boris responded with “My name is Boris…..I need a chorus…..I like to build buses…..shit, that didn’t rhyme”. Jacob Rees-Mogg made up for it a little with better flow even if his rhymes didn’t make any sense – and in imagining Rees-Mogg as a hip-hop MC, I have officially taken this metaphor too far.
Kicking out the rebels was unbelievably risky. Take Rory Stewart. What if he unites the Tory rebels with several likeminded independents – there are now 30 independent MPs in the Commons, and that’s without the TIG strays, which brings it up to 40. Stewart has the profile to make this nascent grouping a difficult thorn in Johnson’s side. He could then make an electoral pact with the Lib Dems, which would help them retain the Remain vote in their seats – and keep the continuity Tories out.
But really, it comes down to this for me: the Tories are making miscalculations based on terrible psephology, a weirdly similar mistake to the one Labour made in 2015. Back then, Miliband based his whole strategy on the idea that if the Lib Dem vote collapsed, Labour would get a majority, not bothering at any stage to figure out anything real about the actual Lib Dem vote. Had he done so, he might have figured out that a Lib Dem electoral collapse would most likely lead to a Tory majority before that actually took place.
Even though it isn’t that hard to understand, the two main parties have made a habit of just not comprehending the Lib Dem vote at all and then making bad strategy decisions based on their misconceptions. You’d think those who defend First Past the Post so vociferously would at least get how it works, but alas. Here we are, the latter half of 2019, and the prime minister’s strategy seems to rest on this idea that the Lib Dem and Labour vote will cancel each other out so gets to ride through the middle. This is insane. Yes, we live in crazy times and who knows, maybe this works out for him. But on paper, it’s mad. A drop in the Tory vote share (and even if they get 35%, that’s still seven points down on 2017) coupled with a significant rise in the Lib Dem vote share will almost certainly result in the Lib Dems taking seats off the Tories. That’s before you even factor in the setting, with the Conservative party becoming a poor man’s Brexit party, likely alienating a large section of their vote over the last three general elections that were lured in or back by Cameroon’s modernising project, coupled with the Lib Dem poll numbers coming back into a healthy range.
The worst thing about the Tory strategy is, I don’t even think this cancels out the Brexit party threat – at least, not enough. If the election is held before October 31st, Farage can say that Johnson can’t be trusted to actually deliver when he has five years of safety ahead of him. If it’s held after the 31st, for whatever reason, Farage can say that Johnson promised Brexit before October 31st and didn’t deliver. Given Johnson is still talking about getting a deal, even though that is obviously not going to happen, this danger is even greater for him given how toxic the whole idea of a Brexit deal has perversely become to diehard Leavers.
Again, perhaps this all comes together neatly for Johnson. He still has Corbyn across the aisle, which is a relief to him. I don’t feel it though. Last nigh, I didn’t see a government whose plans are all coming together. It felt like one that was falling apart in front of our eyes.