Chair's message to members - 10 June 2019
Dear Member or Supporter
So far almost all the Conservative candidates for party leader are playing to the delusions of party members rather than the hopes of voters; and only one has come out for Remain.
Rory Stewart is a competent Minister and has the most interesting ideas. But sadly, although he is bringing some honesty on Brexit to the campaign, he is an ex-Remainer, now supporting Leaving the EU on Theresa May's deal.
However, former universities minister Sam Gyimah MP has come out for a referendum with three choices (deal, no-deal, Remain). He says he would vote Remain, although he would not campaign actively for it. Hurrah! I don't reckon his chances of success as high - I am not even sure he will obtain the eight MPs needed when nominations close tonight. But he is the one whose arguments on Brexit we should encourage Conservative party members to respect and support, whichever candidate eventually wins the position. You can follow his campaign here.
I understand of course why a Remain/ referendum candidature has little appeal - almost 90% of Conservative Party activists oppose a referendum (Conservative Home - not a properly structured survey). But most of the candidates - and the party members who form the electorate - are misreading the position of a large minority of Conservative voters. A Remain/ referendum Conservative candidate would bring hope to millions of Conservatives.
Everyone forgets about Conservative Remainers
In 2016, 42% of those who had voted Conservative in 2015 voted Remain. That's getting on for five million votes. Many are loyal. In the 2019 European Parliament elections, over half of Conservative voters had voted Remain in 2016. And they are loyal still: 92% of those who voted Conservative in 2019 would do so at the next election. By contrast, the majority of those who switched parties would stick with their new parties, by 1.6:1 in the case of the Brexit Party.
Conservative leadership candidates are not the only ones who underestimate the Conservative Remain block. Much of the Remain movement consistently presents itself as though it were a front-runner for Labour's election campaign. Too many look for the "real reasons" for the Leave vote in an anti-austerity protest - that can hardly explain the high Leave vote in affluent districts. We do actually have to talk about sovereignty and immigration, the subjects Leavers are interested in, not just what we feel comfortable talking about.
Message to Conservatives
It would also be a mistake to write off the Conservative party membership who form the electorate for the party leader. They are not in their views or demographics representative of Conservative voters. But they can take Conservative voters' views into account in their decisions.
Remember when David Cameron ran against David Davis for party leader in 2005. Davis was more in line with the party's feelings and began as front-runner; Cameron won because his modernising agenda was seen as a vote-winner.
Parties are machines for generating votes. We can aim to create a climate of opinion where Conservative Party MPs and members realise that a pro-referendum stance is a vote-winner.
We can make clear that otherwise the trajectory of the next Conservative leader will match Theresa May's, heading to deadlock and failure, just rather more quickly:
- Unrealistic expectations and a lack of understanding of how the EU thinks and works will collide with reality in Brussels. There will not be a better Withdrawal Agreement. The EU is not going to change its nature or abandon Ireland in favour of an ex-Member. The Political Declaration can be changed to any relationship on Michel Barnier's famous slide - but there is no agreement in the UK on what is wanted.
- Parliament is unlikely to sanction No-deal because anyone who has looked at it knows that it is the route to isolation - or to negotiating the same deal but from a weaker position. It will be hard to stop it - but Parliament will try to find a way.
- Supporting the Deal will not allow the country to move on - because the ten years hard labour of negotiating and implementing Brexit is yet to start; and there is anyway no majority for the Deal in Parliament.
- Almost every economic forecast tells us that Brexit will make us poorer, that the benefits of new trade deals are immaterially small, that we would have less influence in the world.
Sure, most of the Party members will disagree. They see benefits in Brexit. But even to them and in addition to the principled arguments for a referendum we can say:
- surely you wish to do Brexit well, not just get it over with. And
- do you not feel that you should insure your party against the risk of failure?Would it not be better to put your Brexit plan to the electorate for ratification? Then, if Brexit happens and goes badly you can at least share the blame with the voters.
How to target Conservatives
Average membership will be in the hundreds per constituency; there is no ready way of knowing who they are. But if you reach Conservative voters you will also be reaching members either directly or indirectly. So:
- write to your Conservative MP (their views here; address here) and any Conservative peer that you know. Better still, go see your MP.
- write to the Conservative Constituency or borough Association and ask to meet them to discuss Brexit and the referendum on the terms. Perhaps they are up for a discussion or a debate with members. (A briefing note for a meeting is here)
- write to any Conservative councillors and ask to meet them - councillors are active and influential in their parties. Your council's website will list councillors by party and give contact information.
- both your local Council and the London datastore publish the results from the last European Parliament, Westminster Parliament, borough and GLA elections. Certainly the borough and GLA results will be available by ward. That will tell you where the Conservative voters are and so where to concentrate your street campaigning and leafleting.
Ideas for what more you can do here. To become more active, join up with your local campaign organisation. We will be making more use of our volunteers so please sign up here and take our volunteers survey so that we know how best to use the skills and experience that you would bring to the campaign.
This e-mail sets out the personal views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of London4Europe.