“The main lesson to draw from the Peterborough by-election is that the Brexit Party can wound but it cannot kill.” Thus the London Times, in all its majestic myopia verging on outright blindness. Have the wordsmiths who write its editorials ever heard of “mortal wounds,” or wounds that are so serious they require years in hospital? And that a wound to the Conservative Party could keep it out of office for years, perhaps for ever?
The Peterborough by-election was mightily important. It came about because the sitting Labour M.P., Fiona Onasanya, lied about being the driver in a car going over the speed limit. She was jailed for perverting the course of justice and made to resign her seat in the Commons. In mid-April Nigel Farage announced that he had formed a new party, the Brexit Party, which would contest the Peterbough by-election; its aim was solely to take the UK out of the European Union. Since the Conservative Party under its leader Theresa May was entirely responsible for the UK failure to leave the EU on the advertised March 29, there was no doubt that the Tories would lose spectacularly, and the nation focused on a great sporting event. The bookmakers quoted 1-5 on for backers of the Brexit Party. In the event, the Conservatives were indeed thrashed, but Labour held the seat over the Brexit Party challenge by 683 votes. This was due to their entrenched, well-organized local organization, while the Brexit Party had started from scratch. So the result was not so immediately conclusive as had been forecast, but B.P. cast a long shadow over the future. Here are some conclusions to Farage’s partial setback, and the menace he retains.
There are threats and threats. Many are purely gestural, and others are sincerely meant but lack the power to implement them. Nigel Farage and his party have absolutely the will and power to make good their threat, which is hard and real with ice-cold clarity. If Brexit is not accomplished by October 31, then Farage will oppose the Conservatives in every constituency, whenever a general election is held, which could not long be delayed. And this is mortal. The Brexit Party does not need a slew of Parliamentary seats. UKIP, its predecessor, never won a thing beyond the EU elections and a couple of apostates, but terrified Cameron into granting a referendum. The power of B.P. lies in the total certitude of its ability to withhold power from the Tories. It has the same order of power as Ross Perot, or Ralph Nader. B.P. is largely the Conservative Party in exile—or, as I would prefer, the Provisional Conservative Party. So the winner of the Tory leadership contest will have to come to terms with Farage. As they say in domestic drama, “We have to talk.” They agree essentially on the grand imperative, but need to divide the spoils. The Tories indulge in a public brawl while the deposed leader, Theresa May, still sits in Downing Street as a mere hologram. She is now casting around for a legacy, a quest on which Private Eye made the best comment. The cover has
THE PRIME MINISTER’S LEGACY IN FULL:
Under that, a blank page.
Ralph Berry writes from England.