Project Fear, much derided for its performance in the referendum campaign, never dies. It is the eternal cry of the establishment: vote for us, or chaos is come again. It often works but did not in 2016. Since then it has been revived by the Chancellor and other Remainers, who passionately oppose any kind of secession from the European Union. Today Project Fear returns to support Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, with its campaign slogan: Vote Brexit Party, get Corbyn.
Without a pact between the Conservatives and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, a plague of Corbynistas will spread over the land, so it is said. Harvests will fail, certainly the financial ones. The problem: the British public is a skeptical, disbelieving mob. The cry of “Wolf!” is heard. The coarse truth is that the public doesn’t believe a word it is told by the Government. They have been deceived too often by the Conservatives, most recently during the pointless interregnum of Theresa May. Her three years in office were distinguished for mendacity tempered by incompetence. The present Government has to deal with two stubborn facts: Theresa May said that the UK would be leaving the EU on March 29th, and this was the stated policy until a few days earlier when Downing Street (and not Theresa May in person) admitted that it was all off. Boris Johnson inherited her failed promise and assured voters that the UK would leave on October 31st, or he would “die in a ditch.” The deadline has now passed and the ditch has yet to yield up its corpse. The cover of the latest Private Eye has a headline "DITCH SPEAKS OUT" and a photograph of a waterfilled ditch carries a plaintive voice-line: “Boris has let me down.” That is two failures at the highest level. Yet Boris has refused any kind of pact with the Brexit Party.
His problem is Nigel Farage, the nemesis of the Conservative Party. He demands that Boris Johnson give up his version of May’s deal, else he will field hundreds of candidates in the coming general election on December 12th. He has the money, and he has the power. Just as the wretched Fixed-Term Parliaments Act stripped power from the government and handed it over to the opposition, the announced date of the general election (to which the Queen has given assent: La Reine le veult) hands power to the spoilers including but not confined to the official Opposition.
And these spoilers have a hand to play. The minor league is banding together, and the Conservatives are riven with disaffection. They have therefore no choice but to repeat the historic line of the Right, that there is no alternative. They can hardly call upon Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, for support. He is widely seen as the Astrologer Royal after his role in the earlier Project Fear. Nigel Farage has wisely stated that he will not contest a parliamentary seat, preferring to spread his great popular appeal in country-wide addresses and going the route of Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign. Boris himself has to decide whether he will stand again in Uxbridge (majority: 5,034 in 2017), where he will be assailed by waves of Momentum storm troops and pitiless fake news. If he moves to a safer seat, the popular jeers will be deafening. It will be said cruelly that he has taken over the leadership of Project Fear. The Government has a single dominant position: a vote for any party other than Conservatives brings closer the dire threat of Corbyn. And if that threat is seen as not so dire, what then?
Ralph Berry writes from England.