As part of our regular “Remember their Audience” series, we examine the Conservatives’ attacks on other parties ahead of the election that is still likely even though it has yet to be called.
The background: The Prime Minister said recently that he did not want an election, but then tried to call one. Having tried to call one, the “rebel alliance” decided it was too busy dealing with “no deal” brexit to let him have one. That has not stopped the Conservatives pushing a very heavy brexit message with a firm eye on their position at a General Election on which they expect to be judged on brexit.
The claim: So many statements have been and are being made by the Conservatives right now that the whole theme is key. Unequivocal pronouncements that the UK “will still leave” on October 31 (despite most indications being that it won’t), and bravdo talk of “do or die” all add up to a clear message that the Conservatives are the party of brexit.
But surely people know the Conservatives are “pro-brexit”. So why the push?
Who they aren’t talking to:
Traditional Floating Voters – or Remainers, Obviously.
As usual in this series, I now take the opportunity to remind you that many things in politics are misunderstood because most of us think we are the audience when in fact we rarely are.
The Conservatives are clearly not speaking to remainers. Indeed their recent twitter “attack” on Jo Swinson for proposing unilateral “revoke” was widely shared by her fellow Lib Dems. For many remainers that position is seen as an electoral asset not a liability. Other such attacks on opponents as “blockers” and “remainers” and so on are similarly not messages to remainers but about them.
The Conservatives are also not doing what Labour is trying to do right now – reach out to millions of people motivated by things other than the EU. That seems like something that will have to change eventually but having expelled so many MPs who might appeal to less brexit-motivated voters, and having effectively staged the least-reported budget statement by a new government in history two weeks ago, the Conservatives are perhaps right to accept defeat on non-brexit motivated voters for now.
So who are they talking to: Brexit Party supporters
While polls have shifted since the Conservatives appointed Boris Johnson as PM, the Brexit Party has remained stubbornly above 10% in all of them. Talk of a pact comes with big complications and the Conservatives’ approach early on can best be understood in that light.
In effect, everything the Conservatives say on brexit right now is an attack on the Brexit Party.
They are trying to kill it off, electorally speaking, though the Brexit Party seems alert to the danger now.
By making supporters fear that brexit is truly at risk, and by positioning the Conservatives as “the” defenders of brexit, the party hopes to worry hardline leavers into abandoning Nigel Farage’s party and backing the Conservatives to get the outcome they want.
Of course, attacking the Brexit Party openly would upset and alienate many leavers for whom Johnson is a compromise they put up with because Nigel Farage isn’t an MP and so can’t be Prime Minister (yet). But this backdoor attack on the Brexit Party is critical to getting the Conservatives back the bulk of their FPTP advantage as the only party of the right.
If you want to know if it is working, watch Brexit Party poll figures in the coming weeks.