Most Conservative members would see party destroyed to achieve Brexit

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
June 18, 2019, 7:00 AM GMT+0

Nothing is sacred now as the Conservative Party membership seeks to secure Brexit – except keeping Jeremy Corbyn out of Number 10

Over the last three years Brexit has turned British politics upside down, and perhaps no institution has been hit harder than the Conservative Party. The issue has forced two successive Tory Prime Ministers out of office and spurred the creation of a new party of the right which is currently beating the Conservatives in the polls.

Now a new YouGov survey of Conservative Party members reveals just how much Brexit has changed the mood of the membership, subverting traditional loyalties and reshaping political priorities.

So dedicated to accomplishing Brexit are Tory members that a majority (54%) would be willing to countenance the destruction of their own party if necessary. Only a third (36%) put the party’s preservation above steering Britain out of the EU.

Party members are also willing to sacrifice another fundamental tenet of Conservative belief in order to bring about Brexit: unionism.* Asked whether they would rather avert Brexit if it would lead to Scotland or Northern Ireland breaking away from the UK, respectively 63% and 59% of party members would be willing to pay for Brexit with the breakup of the United Kingdom.

A similar proportion (61%) would also be willing to countenance significant economic damage done to the British economy in order to leave the EU.

There is, however, still one thing that Conservative members fear more than the prospect of Brexit slipping through their fingers: Jeremy Corbyn. Half (51%) of Conservative party members would rather call the whole thing off than allow the Labour leader to ascend to the position of Prime Minister. Nevertheless, four in ten (39%) are so committed to Brexit that they would want to see it brought about even if it meant their party’s nemesis came to power.

Members fret that failure to leave the EU will end chances of governing for good

Conservative members are not just ideologically committed to Brexit – they also genuinely believe that the failure to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum will bring about the destruction of the party’s electoral chances. Indeed, half (51%) of members think that Britain ending up staying in the EU after all would damage the party to the extent that it will never lead a government again, and another 29% think it would put the party out of power for multiple elections to come.

By contrast, most members believe that successfully bringing about Brexit will win the Tories at least the next election. Should the next leader manage to take Britain out of the EU with a deal, 52% of party members believe this will hand the Conservatives a victory at the next election and a further 10% think it will deliver a domino run of election victories.

Similarly, 44% of party members think a no-deal Brexit will secure them a win the next time the country votes with a further 14% believing it will bring subsequent victories as well.

Party members no longer see British politics as a contest between themselves and Labour, but rather one between the Conservative and Brexit Parties

With Conservative members so sure that failing to deliver Brexit will devastate their electoral chances, it is no surprise to see that they now see the Brexit Party – with its clear commitment to a swift Brexit – to be a much bigger threat to them than Labour with its flip-flopping on the matter.

Approaching a century after they rose to become the Conservatives’ main rivals, today just 34% of party members see Labour as a big threat to them, almost half the number who say the same of the Brexit Party (67%).

Indeed, two thirds of Conservative members (68%) believe that targeting Brexit Party and UKIP voters is the smartest move at the next general election, while only 25% think they would be better off going after Labour and Lib Dem supporters.

Conservative members feel they have more in common with those who share their view on Brexit over other supporters of their own party

Just as Brexit has exposed new fault lines across British society, the same is true of the Conservative membership. As many as half (51%) of Conservative members say they have more in common with supporters from other parties that share their Brexit stance than they do with fellow Conservatives who voted the other way in 2016.

Only three in ten (30%) feel a keener sense of fraternity with other Conservatives who voted the opposite way in 2016 over their Brexit brethren who support other parties.

And so it is that the seismic upheaval that Brexit has had on British politics has brought about a situation that would have been unthinkable in years gone by. Approaching half (46%) of Conservative members would be happy to see Nigel Farage, a man who would otherwise be considered their most dangerous political foe, take over the reins of their party. This includes a majority (56%) of those members who voted to leave the EU in 2016.

*Even outside the issue of Brexit, it is notable that a sizeable minority of members of what is officially called the Conservative and Unionist Party would be happy to see the United Kingdom broken up. As many as a quarter (26%) of party members would be happy to see Scotland split from the UK, while a further 20% would be happy to let Northern Ireland go.

Photo: Getty

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