The Brexit Party's presence in Labour marginals is more of a problem to the Conservatives than it is in Tory-held seats
In a reversal of previous claims that the Brexit Party would stand in more than 600 seats at the general election, Nigel Farage has announced he will not field candidates in the 317 seats currently held by the Conservatives. But will it actually make a difference?
Whilst it will certainly help the Tories retain the seats it currently holds, the Brexit Party will still be standing in the seats the Conservative Party hopes to gain from Labour in order to secure a majority.
The most important swing to look at in the polls is the one between Labour and the Conservatives. Despite a move away from two-party politics since the last election, it is still the case that most marginal seats are battles between Labour and the Conservatives, and this is the most important dynamic in deciding who will be celebrating Christmas in 10 Downing Street.
On current polling we have seen around a four percent swing from Labour to the Conservatives, which would see the Tories gaining a large chunk of seats off Labour, in places like Barrow and Furness, Great Grimsby, Workington, Bridgend, Gower, and Stoke-on-Trent Central, whilst Labour gain few, if any, seats off the Conservatives.
Given this, Farage’s decision to stand aside in Conservative-held seats and not in Labour-held seats will likely make very little difference.
There are three caveats to this. Firstly, whilst there has been a swing towards the Tories in their battle against Labour, the increase in Lib Dem and SNP vote share means that there is likely to be a swing against them in seats where they are battling against those parties.
However, there are not as many of these seats as there are Labour/Conservative marginals, and most of them will be the kind of places where the Brexit Party wouldn’t have won many votes anyway, such as Scotland or the more Remain-leaning seats in the south.
Secondly, it does help mitigate against the effects of a surge in support for Labour during this campaign. If the Labour vote share does start to recover, in the same way it did in 2017, this will make it more difficult for the party to start gaining seats from the Tories. However, on current polling it will take quite a turnaround of Jeremy Corbyn’s fortunes in order to reach this point.
Finally, whilst the practical effect might be quite small, we don’t know what effect Farage’s message might have on broader perceptions of the parties. It could be that even in seats where the Brexit Party is standing, voters that might otherwise have supported the party now feel more comfortable voting Tory after Farage’s comments.
However given the Brexit Party was already trending downwards in the polls, it looked like this was happening already. So overall, despite today’s drama, this is unlikely to be a game-changing moment.