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Tories deserve a bloody nose at the polls
It is highly likely that we shall have three prime ministers this year, and that by the end of it the Conservative Party as we’ve known it will have ceased to exist. It is also likely that by year’s-end we shall have either revoked our notification to leave the European Union or
committed ourselves to a fresh referendum. None of these outcomes is certain but each is more likely than not.
I reach what may sound like three wild conclusions by the application of logic to the situation we’re now in.
When logic produces weird predictions they should face rigorous scrutiny; so let me set out my reasoning.

I start from three premises. First, a clear majority of this (or probably the next) House of Commons is resolved to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
Second, no majority can be found for any deal that leaves Britain as “rule-taker, not rule-maker”. Jacob Rees-Mogg calls this “vassalage”; I call it satellite status; others call it Brino (Brexit in name only).
But all agree that by comparison with our present full membership of the EU, Brino offers sharp disadvantages and no advantage other than greater control over immigration, an issue of diminishing salience. The argument for Theresa May’s deal is about the will of the British
people, not about the merits of the deal itself, for which no enthusiasm can be found in any quarter.
Third, a substantial minority of the parliamentary Conservative Party and the overwhelming majority of its national membership are now irreconcilably opposed to anything but
a complete, “clean” exit from the EU, and are ready to break the government on the issue.
Such, then, are my three premises: no no-deal exit; no satellite status; no mending Tory disunity.
Assuming an almost certainly bad result in next Thursday’s local elections, and assuming
Mrs May cannot reach any EU withdrawal deal with Jeremy Corbyn that her own parliamentary party could accept, then the Tories must call a European parliamentary election they don’t want, to an institution they’re pledged to get us out of. This is grotesque, as the
Electoral Commission has just pointed out.
In such an election the Tories face, expect and deserve a massive bloody nose and they’ll get it. Many, perhaps most, Tory MPs know the party has let the country down and are profoundly embarrassed, braced for the punch they know
they’ve invited: third place at least, with Conservative MEPs down from 18 to single figures.

Can Mrs May survive that? The safest prediction about her has always been that she’ll carry on, but this time? Really? And with the party reeling, Nigel Farage crowing, a
paralysed prime minister and her impotent administration floundering, cabinet discipline in tatters and a Brexit cliff edge approaching, the men (and women) in suits must surely come for her.
So: a leadership election before the autumn. Who makes it through the MPs’ hustings
and on to the shortlist of two? Of course the Tories’ best hope of survival would be with a cleanskin: someone youngish, perhaps new to the public, as-yet untarnished and not too ideological, because voters will want to feel the party has turned a page. But I expect the
candidates to be the usual suspects. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt: hooligan versus hologram. Dominic Raab: rabid with an extra a. Sajid Javid: a too-eager Uncle Fester. Michael Gove: Professor Branestawm ... oh dear, it will probably be Boris, distrusted as he is by colleagues,
and perhaps Hunt or Gove. But Mr Hunt is a deserter from Remain and deserters are not loved by those they join or those they leave. Mr Gove, head and shoulders above the others intellectually, will struggle with the Tory rank-and-file.
I never expected to write this, but
Mr Johnson has a good chance with the Tories’ tiny, elderly selectorate. And if he wins he will have to call an immediate general election because a dozen or more of his outraged colleagues will resign the Tory whip and he will be at once unable to assemble a working Commons

Mr Johnson will then lose the general election because he’s a shambles. His character, reputation and party will be torn apart during the campaign. Floating voters would want a good reason to like the Tories better than they did in 2017. I rest my case.
Mr Corbyn as prime minister but probably without a good working majority; the Brexit Party still strutting; the Tories broken and bleeding; and October 31 thundering down the track towards us. What, by then, are we hearing from France and Germany? “Aw, shucks, give them a few
months more?” I don’t think so.

Did President Macron ever really mean to push through his “revoke, referendum or get out” ultimatum to Mrs May last month? I doubt it. His was a final warning and clear marker of France’s intentions. Given the reserve power of veto that France
retains, Germany and France will probably avoid a split by presenting a joint position in October. It will become clear to our parliamentarians before then that this will be — yes — revoke, referendum or get out. I think our EU partners calculate that, whatever government we have
parliament’s answer will be the first or second option, and not the third. And I think they’re probably right.

By Christmas, then, we’ll be on our third prime minister, and still in the EU. And the Tory party? The European Research Group’s Jacob Rees-Mogg (say), Steve Baker and
Mark Francois are in no useful sense in the same party as liberal, pro-European centrists like (say) Alistair Burt, David Lidington, Sir Alan Duncan or Amber Rudd.

Something has to give. There was a time when a strong prime minister could have made an example of a couple of
Brexiteer renegades by withdrawing the whip and scaring their comrades back into the fold but it’s probably now too late: there are just too many of them.
Nor are they unrepresentative of millions of voters: up to 20 per cent of the electorate. Britain (or England, anyway)
needs a nationalist, nativist, reactionary party to represent these voters. So I would like to see Mr Farage’s new Brexit Party do well enough, and promise well enough, to provoke a mass defection from the Conservative Party. Otherwise it’s the moderate, liberal, 21st-century
generation Conservatives who will have to start quitting and regrouping.
How, with whom, and as what, it is too early to say. One thing, however, it is not too early to say. The rabble in government who now call themselves the Tories are over, and must be put out of their misery
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