New Tory leader’s nightmare choice: their members or voters

by Nick Kent | 24.06.2019

83% of Tory party members want a no-deal Brexit, but 66% of Tory voters either want to stay in the EU or leave with a deal. Who should Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt listen to – party members or Tory voters?

In a month’s time the UK will have a new prime minister and the Tories a new leader. The people who get to decide who that will be are the 160,000 Conservative Party members. Research shows that they are so committed to Brexit they are even prepared to accept the destruction of their own party to achieve it.

But general elections are not determined by party members and a new Survation poll shows that Tory members’ views are completely at odds with those of 2015’s Conservative voters. That matters because 2015 was the only time the Tories have won a majority in a general election in the last 27 years. If the new leader can’t win back those supporters, then they could be a very short-term tenant in Downing Street.

A recent YouGov poll showed that not only were a substantial majority of Tory members willing to see the destruction of their party just to get Brexit but, even more shockingly, that a huge majority (63% to 29%) would be prepared to see Scotland leave the Union, “significant damage” to the UK economy (61% to 29%) and Northern Ireland leaving too (59% to 28%). Clearly, Conservative party members are no longer conservative.

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Their voters, on the other hand, are in a very different place. The Survation poll, for Tories Against Brexit, found that 30% of Tory 2015 voters would prefer to stay in the EU and although slightly more (32%) want a no-deal Brexit, 36% back leaving with a deal. All these figures are a far cry from the 83% of Tory members who would back (p.11) a leader committed to no deal.

The difference between members and voters is stark too, when you look at attitudes to the economic costs of Brexit. More than half of Tory 2015 voters are not prepared to suffer any financial loss from Brexit compared to a larger majority of party members who say they would accept significant damage to the economy.

The problem for the Tories is that they have now drifted so far from the mainstream that they have left their natural supporters stranded. Just 43% of Tory 2015 voters would now vote for the party. Most of those defections are to the Brexit Party but 12% would switch to pro-Remain parties, including the Lib Dems. Conservative MPs in London, Scotland and the south east of England would be particularly at risk if that happened – as the recent European Parliament elections showed.

The Tory leadership candidates face a stark choice: they can pursue a course that appeals to their members or one that appeals to the party’s voters. They can’t do both. And with Labour shifting their stance on a new referendum, the new Tory leader could find themselves unable to get a no deal Brexit through parliament, losing hardline Brexiters to Farage’s party and moderate Tories to the Lib Dems. Conservative Party members might wake up to their party having been destroyed, no Brexit and a general election rapidly approaching. A nightmare indeed.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

One Response to “New Tory leader’s nightmare choice: their members or voters”

  • Can only say I’d love this to happen in my lifetime. No Tories, Labour a hardly noticeable ghost of its former self and a new middle road taking on the Brexit fanatics to ensure the UK still exists in 2020. One really can only hope.