Of all the red warning signs for the Conservatives, the choice of the Brexit party’s candidate for the forthcoming Peterborough by-election is blinding as they come. Not only was Mike Greene a lifelong Conservative until a few weeks ago; he is a self-made man brought up in council house who has gone on to set up businesses and serve in several charitable roles such as trustee of Peterborough cathedral. If the Conservatives cannot attract and retain such a person as a member, then what is the point of them at all? They are either the party of self-reliance, of hard work, entrepreneurship and public service – or they might as well pack up and go home.
Yet at the same time, we have never needed the Conservative party to survive so much as we do now – purely in order to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of number 10. To have a sympathiser of Nicolas Maduro running the UK economy would be a devastating blow – far, far greater than any damage wrought by the bumbling over Brexit. Like them or not, it is only the Conservatives who are going to be in a position to defeat Labour at the next general election.
How, then, best to save the Conservatives from themselves? It is very clear that they must not be allowed to go into the next election with Theresa May at the helm. To an even greater extent than John Major in his final, petulant months at Number 10 in 1996/97, May is costing her party support by the day. Never mind her promise to resign before the 2022 general election – we could see the government fall any day now, leaving no time for a leadership election before the general election. May should have resigned last December when she failed to win the support of a majority of her backbenchers in the confidence vote in her leadership.
Since then, her Brexit strategy has exposed her faults like a frayed electric cable. When her deal went down to a resounding defeat, she simply tried again, and again. Finally, after her third defeat, she tried to negotiate with Jeremy Corbyn – which seems to have achieved nothing at all. Now May has reverted back to failed plan A – and proposed a fourth vote on the withdrawal deal which she so limply negotiated with the EU. Her main effort to convince backbenchers to vote for her deal seems to have taken the form of electoral bribes for their constituencies and offers of peerages. In a desperate lunge for victory, she then promised that she would resign if MPs supported her deal – but stay on as Prime Minister if they didn’t.
This simply cannot be allowed to go on. The idea that she should stay on until Brexit is settled is fatally flawed – it has been obvious for at least four months that we are not going to have a satisfactory conclusion to Brexit for as long as May is Prime Minister. She is the barrier, the roadblock, the border post which prevents the country from moving on.
It is clear, though, that May is not going to go of her own free will. She must be dragged away from the controls – something which Conservative MPs have so far proved unable to achieve, for all their plotting and grumbling. What might finally make the difference, however, is a heavy defeat in the European elections in two weeks’ time. Were the Conservatives to drop below third place in those elections it really would be curtains for May – it would be a reminder that political parties cannot take their existence for granted.
The logical action for Conservatives, therefore, is to vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in those Euro elections. It wouldn’t show up as a rejection of conservative policies – given that Farage doesn’t have any of his own, save for a proper Brexit. Nor would it be a rejection of conservative values, as the Brexit party appears to drink from the same wellstream as most conservatives. Nor would it have any legislative repercussions – we are electing a bunch of candidates who may never even take up their seats. Rather, it would be a straightforward protest. Conservative-minded voters would, in effect, be writing on their ballot papers a personal message to May: “in the name of God, go”.
Forcing a resignation from May is no guarantee that the Conservatives can win the next election, but it is a necessary step simply to give them any chance at all. Conservative voters should not be shy of ratting on their party on 24 May – on the contrary by voting for the Brexit party they will be doing it a favour.