There are some good articles floating around out there in the bubble about May’s thinking on no deal – the press in Westminster are starting to focus at long last on the fact that the country could be irreparably changing in a few weeks’ time. The logic goes that May always saw no deal as catastrophe to be avoided at all costs but that now, due to a combination of having boxed herself in with the latest move to try and re-open the deal and the fact that polling and focus groups suggest the Tories would come out okay from a no deal Brexit, means that the prime minister is now seriously considering the possibility of just letting it happen.
I thought it would be interesting to imagine what would happen in the event of a no deal Brexit and further, what impact that would have on both major parties.
I can believe that both Tory voters and Tory floaters say that no deal Brexit would either be fine or even actively welcomed – and thus, the Tories would be electorally rewarded by these people. However, it’s more complicated than that. The vast majority of those who are within the Tory catchment do not believe that no deal will be negative in any meaningful sense – the polling on the topic supports this. If no deal happens, they will either be proven right or wrong on its immediate effects. If there is any sort of real disruption, I think the Tories could be in real trouble. Leavers who shouted that no deal would be no sweat will not en masse declare, “Well, I got that one wrong, bad on me.” This isn’t human nature. Instead, they will feel cheated and duped. Their anger will go many ways but it is inescapable that a lot of it will land on the party that inflicted it on them and convinced them it would be fine.
Having said that, Labour could be in much more trouble if no deal happens. Corbyn clearly thinks that in the event of no deal the British people will break out of their false consciousness, see the Tories as duplicitous and then demand socialism. The truth is, I think a no deal would split the party. For a start, a lot of Labour MPs will tell Corbyn in the next few weeks that if he doesn’t support a second referendum, a lot of them will be off. If a no deal happens, most of them will follow through. That alone will be a huge blow to Labour.
But even if the moderates get cold feet again in the short term, Labour are still doomed. No deal would further polarise the country into Remainers and Leavers, and Labour would end up in a similar situation to what befell them after the Scottish referendum. As Scottish politics became a battle between Nationalists and Unionists, Labour found themselves in neither camp. As a result, the Tories have been able to replace them as Scotland’s second party, while the SNP have knocked over Labour’s former Scottish empire pretty much completely. If politics really became about Remain/Leave as it is threatening to, Labour will be left in the same position, particularly if the pro-European bit of it splits off, which is likely to happen at some point.
What about other parties? Until the Lib Dems have a saleable leader and platform that makes sense beyond Brexit, their fortunes beyond local by-elections are unlikely to improve. Yet I can see the Greens getting more votes again, as well as localised parties like Plaid. All of that will eat into Labour’s vote share. I think Labour have a small window of opportunity to try and become the Remain party – one that Corbyn, a Brexiteer, will almost definitely spurn.