The last four days have been tumultuous in British politics. At the time of writing, we've seen 8 Labour MPs and 3 Conservatives leave their respective parties to form The Independent Group. Most of the analysis I have read so far has implied that it will be much more damaging to the Labour Party in the short and long term.
So far, this has been reflected in the early polls where the core Conservative vote seems to have remained in the high 30s, while Labour have dropped into the 20s. Based on this, any early snap election would result in the Conservatives regaining their majority and Labour suffering seat losses.
As things stand this probably is the case. I believe there are a lot more Labour MPs whose loyalty is wavering and if we see a mass exodus then it could take Labour years to repair. Their issue would then be that all the “moderate” MPs would be replaced by socialist or more left leaning candidates at the next election, whereas the constituency profile of Britain probably requires a broader offering of candidates to win a majority, or to even secure the most seats.
What has struck me so far though is how several of the seriously Corbyn-skeptic Labour MPs who have come out and said they will stay with the party, some examples being Stephen Kinnock, John Mann and Stella Creasy.
There is no doubt that there is a serious disconnect between the Labour leadership and its members on Brexit. Their policy has been vague though, in my opinion, not quite incoherent or contradictory. However, the fact is that isn’t what the majority of its members or voters want as a Brexit outcome. The next 6-9 months will be a very dangerous time for an election as they could lose a massive chunk of their 2017 support if it became a Brexit election.
However, I actually believe the Tories current level of polling stability is a little misleading. They have lost 3 strong, female MPs who were unpopular with a large part of the Conservative membership but who have relatively strong national profiles.
While the number of other potential defectors seems to be in the single digits at the moment, if the trend of dynamic, outspoken MPs continues (examples would include Justine Greening and Johnny Mercer) they will actually serious impact their “electoral brand”.
Simultaneously, the potential emergence of The Brexit Party (which has so far been absent from polling) could also take votes from the right, especially if Brexit is delayed.
What is true is that Brexit voters’ loyalty certainly seems to be to Brexit above all else and they will vote with the party that the believe best serves this purpose (in the last election we saw former UKIP voters move back to the Conservatives as they believed Theresa May would deliver for them.
Now that seems less likely, and if Nigel Farage gets seriously involved, they could start to lose %s in the polls to both The Brexit Party and potential even UKIP again , May may take an even harder line or look more favourably on a No Deal Brexit.
This would almost certainly result in further Conservative defections to The Independent Group. The question is are there really many sensible, slightly right of centre voters who would stop voting Conservatives in large numbers?
If so, Theresa May is doing almost everything possible to drive the very MPs that they would look favourably on as future leaders away. I believe this could ultimately do serious electoral damage to the Conservatives and while there may be a sensible way to avoid it by remaining in the Customs Union and possibly the Single Market, I don’t think Theresa May will take this approach.
So ultimately, I don’t believe Brexit will break the Conservatives like so many political analysts do, but it may be the catalyst for more centre right MPs and centrist voters to realise this isn’t the party that has the policies they want to vote for, and not only on Brexit…