Analysis: Polls point to a hung parliament – but the Tory benches will be markedly different

Posted On: 
3rd September 2019

With no deal rebels facing the threat of deselection, a snap general election could lead to a dramatic change in the make-up of the parliamentary Conservative party – and the arithmatic in the House of Commons, writes Sebastian Whale

Justine Greening this morning announced she would stand down as a Conservative MP at the next election
Credit: 
PA

A snap election would produce another hung parliament – with both Labour and the Tories losing seats – a survey of 10,000 people has found.

The study by Focal Data, commissioned by Conservative Group for Europe, forecast that the Tories would win 311 seats – a net loss of six on 2017 – and Labour 242 (down 20). According to the poll, the SNP could take ten of the Tories’ 13 constituencies in Scotland and win 52 of the 59 available seats north of the border. The Lib Dems would also return with nine more MPs, with the survey predicting that the Conservatives would lose more centrist supporters to Jo Swinson’s party than they would gain from those who backed the Brexit party or Ukip. Fifteen per cent of Labour leave voters would support the Tories in an autumn election, the poll forecasted.

Dominic Grieve, a former attorney general and chair of the pro-EU Conservative Group for Europe, said: “The blind and irresponsible charge for Brexit at any price is polarising the country, threatening the Union and testing the Constitution to breaking point. It is also at risk of conveying the message that the Conservative party is no place for moderates. 

“As our polling shows, it is alienating more moderates than attracting hard-line Brexiteers so that we could come out an election in a worse position than we are currently in – with no majority. The results are sobering enough, including the potential loss of ten seats in Scotland, but this is before the potential for tactical voting is factored in.”

At first reading, this forecast would suggest that the current parliamentary impasse on Brexit would continue after a prospective snap election. While the numbers might reflect this, in reality there is likely to be a different complexion in the Commons.

A number of Conservative MPs from the party’s moderate wing – many of whom profess themselves to be One Nation Tories – have either indicated they will not stand again at an election, or are prepared to vote in a way that could see them lose the party whip. Among those to be standing down include opponents of a no deal Brexit such as party grandee Ken Clarke, Sir Oliver Letwin, former Cabinet minister Justine Greening and ex-defence minister Guto Bebb. David Gauke, Rory Stewart and Sam Gyimah are among the one-time frontbenchers to signal they are prepared to face deselection in order to stop the UK leaving the EU empty-handed.

With several anti no-deal voices from the Conservative benches departing the Commons, thoughts will turn to their replacements. In light of the diktat coming from No10, MPs will have to sign up to a manifesto pledging to leave the European Union on the 31st October – and all the implications that come with it. Little room is being given to those inside the party who could not countenance such an outcome.

So, while the Conservatives under Boris Johnson, according to this new survey, are set to lose seats, there will likely be fewer voices on his team dissenting against his Brexit plans. MPs elected under a manifesto committed to such a definitive commitment on Brexit will have less wriggle room to rebel. As a result, the Tories’ broad church on Europe is likely to narrow dramatically, with all its potential long-term electoral implications.  

Of course, under the election outcome outlined above, the PM would have to conjure a majority from somewhere. Much will depend on the DUP, and whether the party can return with the 10 MPs they currently enjoy. Kate Hoey is not standing as a Labour candidate at the next election, and with fellow Brexiteers Frank Field and Ian Austin facing uphill challenges as independents, and Labour MPs including Gloria de Piero standing down, the helpful numbers from the other side on Brexit could also dwindle (though Field and others have been opposed to no deal).

With a mass exodus of anti-no deal protagonists, Boris Johnson may well return to the Commons post a snap election with more shored up support on his own side. Though it appears an election will not overcome the parliamentary blockage, the new face of the Conservative parliamentary party – for better or worse and at whatever cost – could move the dial.