Saturday, 5 January 2019

Brexit: and two-thirds of Conservative Party members opting for "no-deal rather than a bad deal"

Back in June 2016, the MP for East Devon voted to remain in the EU, when he stated that "my head has triumphed over my heart":
BLOG: The EU Referendum. My Personal View. | Hugo Swire

Although in the period before, he had generally voted against more integration within the EU:
Hugo Swire MP, East Devon - TheyWorkForYou

In the referendum itself, the East Devon constituency voted by 50.4% to leave:
Every Leave constituency where the MP voted Remain - inews.co.uk

Now, Sir Hugo is saying 'no deal is better than a bad deal':

"My constituency, East Devon, voted only narrowly to leave, but I did vote remain. I'm not a supporter of what's called the People's Vote. I'm not sure what the first referendum was if it wasn't a People's Vote. We've had a vote. People who lost that vote don't like it so they're doing whatever they can to stop the will of the people being expressed, but we should get on with it. 

"I still very much hope there's a deal to be done with the EU, but if at the end of the day, if there's no deal, as the prime minister said, no deal is better than a bad deal, so we must plan for the eventuality that we come out of the EU with no deal in place."

Sir Hugo called for the Cobra emergency committee, chaired by the prime minister, to sit through Christmas and the New Year.

East Devon MP won't vote Remain again - Radio Exe

Indeed, the question is what has been happening 'through Christmas and New Year': what sort of conversations will the MP have had with the local party these last two weeks?
East Devon | Conservatives

It seems that most support a 'hard Brexit':
Our survey. Seven out of ten Party member respondents oppose the draft Brexit deal. | Conservative Home  
A second referendum remains deeply unpopular among Conservative Party members | Conservative Home

Today's Independent carries a piece from researchers looking at how the party membership feel: again, that 'no deal is better than a bad deal':
Brexit: Majority of Conservative Party members oppose Theresa May’s plans and would prefer no-deal, poll finds | The Independent

Our Conservative member poll shows how a Brexit ‘betrayal’ would threaten the Tories

A large chunk of the party's rank and file have been definitively convinced that no deal really is better than a bad deal

Tim Bale @ProfTimBale
1 day ago

The Christmas holidays weren’t supposed to be relaxing for Tory MPs – especially for those intending to return to Westminster next week to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. As far as the prime minister was concerned, the recess should have been a fortnight or so during which they were told by their local party members to stop playing silly buggers and to get behind the leader.

But if there was any ear-bashing done over the mince pies and sherry, that probably wasn’t the message those MPs received. Indeed, it may have been precisely the opposite.

It turns out that the majority of grassroots Tories really don’t think very much of the deal their own leader has negotiated. More than that, they would actually prefer the UK to leave the EU without any deal at all.

We know this because a few days before Christmas, my colleagues Paul Webb and Monica Poletti, and I surveyed voters and party members on Brexit as part of the ESRC-funded Party Members Project run out of Queen Mary University of London and Sussex University.

To say people think May’s deal is a bit of a turkey is an understatement.

Among voters as a whole, some 49 per cent oppose it and only 23 per cent support it. Among those intending to vote Conservative, as one might expect, things aren’t quite so bad: opposition is running at 38 per cent, compared to 46 per cent who support it.

Incredibly, however, among paid-up members of the Conservative Party, opposition to the deal negotiated by their own leader outweighs support for it by a margin of 59 per cent to 38 per cent.

It’s hardly likely, then, that Tory MPs intending to vote against the deal in the next week or so had anything to fear from their activists as they returned to their constituencies for the festive recess.

If anything, they may well have been told to keep up the good work by a bunch of true blues utterly convinced that, to use a phrase that for some reason we no longer hear so much from Downing Street: ”No deal is better than a bad deal”.

Tory members’ real feelings emerge when they’re presented with a hypothetical binary referendum between May’s deal or No Deal. Only 29 per cent of them would vote for what she’s offering compared to 64 per cent who would vote to leave without a deal.

And, when faced with a three-way choice instead, support for No Deal among rank-and-file Conservatives is equally solid: 57 per cent say that leaving without a deal would be their first preference compared to 23 per cent whose first preference is to leave on the basis of May’s deal, and only 15 per cent who plump for Remain.

That’s partly down to their underlying Euroscepticism – something that’s been fed and fuelled for decades by both Conservative politicians and the Conservative-supporting press until it’s become so overwhelming that even a change of heart (based on a change of editor) by the Daily Mail (which now supports May’s deal) can do little to counter it.

But it’s also down to members being persuaded by some of those self-same politicians that leaving without a deal is not only nothing to worry about but will be actively beneficial.

A whopping 72 per cent of Tory members think that warnings about the severe disruption that “crashing out” of the EU could cause are “exaggerated or invented”. And members are convinced – by 64 per cent to 19 per cent – that leaving without a deal will actually have a positive effect on the economy in the medium-to-long term.

Scary stuff, some Remainers (and many economists) will say. But not as scary perhaps as quite how upset the Tory rank and file will be should the UK end up staying in the EU after all. If that were to happen, 6 per cent of Tory members say they would feel “disappointed”, 15 per cent say they’d feel “angry” and 58 per cent say they’d feel “betrayed”.

Politics is already pretty polarised, even poisonous. This year it could get even uglier.

Tim Bale is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London and author of The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron.

Our Conservative member poll shows how a Brexit ‘betrayal’ would threaten the Tories | The Independent 
TODAYonline | Most of UK PM May's Conservative Party members oppose her Brexit deal: survey

With the full details here:

Generally speaking, members of the Conservative Party have very different views to other party members, according to another set of findings by the same academics at Queen Mary University of London - and that includes Brexit:

Tory members 'a breed apart' from other main parties, study finds | Politics | The Guardian

A problem for the party is that half of its members are over 65:
The ageing Tories are a zombie party – but they have even bigger problems | Katy Balls | Opinion | The Guardian

But this is not a problem as far as the membership is concerned:
Brexit: Are Tory grassroots members 'taking back control'? - BBC News

And they really are 'taking back control': 

Their numbers are dwindling, but Tory members are now the UK’s most influential political force

19 JULY 2018

Theresa May’s desperate attempt to woo her membership underlines that it is the Conservatives, not Labour, who are in hock to members with extreme views.


In the wake of the Conservative Party’s dismal general election performance last year, its dwindling membership base was quickly diagnosed as one of the causes.

Unlike Labour, whose grassroots members number 570,000, the Tories have only 124,000. Those few members the party does have are older, whiter, and hold views that are unrepresentative of the public as a whole (a clear majority are Brexiteers and more than half support the death penalty, with reactionary views on other social issues more prevalent than in other parties).

Those essential truths have not changed but the consensus that the Tory membership is too small to change the direction of national politics, and that only Labour is uniquely in hock to its members, has. Running a minority government means May is beholden to dozens of competing factional demands and interests, and MPs are conscious that the membership has a greater stake in this fight than ever.

Nowhere is this more obvious than on Brexit, where those opposed to May are using the anger of the grassroots to their advantage (other campaigns, like that of Gavin Williamson for more military funding, also benefit from being pet issues of the membership). The backlash against the Chequers plan is being driven, to a large extent, by members, who are dripping poison in the ears of their MPs. They have assumed a strange sort of infallibility in the eyes of some Tories. Team May is now desperately scrambling to stem that corrosive tide by selling the deal to them directly.

This week, around 200 local association chairs attended two Downing Street presentations on the proposals hosted by Gavin Barwell, May’s chief of staff. 100 more dialled into a conference call with the Prime Minister. Today’s Times also reveals that the Prime Minister is to conduct a summer tour in a bid to woo the grassroots.

Will it work? It is hard to construct a convincing argument that it will, given the ideological complexion of the membership. An association chair who attended one of Barwell’s briefings said there was a clamour among the audience for no further concessions to Brussels, and, failing that, for a no deal Brexit. Barely any are willing to swallow the Chequers deal, and those who are will do so only out of anxiety that the alternative is more damaging electorally.

May’s inability to balance her obligations to the national interest and her internal political interests matters. The course she is charting on Brexit, the association chair said, is tearing local parties apart, a sentiment that is echoed by MPs and those working for them. The breakdown in trust will have lasting effects – barely functional as a campaigning force as it is, some fear that failure to resolve this outburst of grassroots discontent could seriously hobble the party in marginal seats at the next election.

As is the case with those on the Tory benches, it does not look like the Prime Minister will be able to placate her Eurosceptic members. To succeed internally, her successor will have to try. But the problem is that pleasing both the electorate and Tory members at the same time is only going to get harder, especially once the economic reality of Brexit hits.

Their numbers are dwindling, but Tory members are now the UK’s most influential political force

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