Maybe. The constituency opinion poll in Grimsby by Survation for The Economist – reputable brands both – suggests it might not be out of the question. The “shock poll” as the Grimsby Telegraph describes it is precisely that. If the poll is to be believed, Grimsby would have a Tory MP for the first time in 74 years. Not only would that, but the Conservative candidate, Lia Nici, romp home, on a suggested 44 per cent of the vote. The Labour candidate, and incumbent, Melanie Onn, is on a mere 31 per cent. Despite her Eurosceptic credentials, her support is down from the 49 per cent she scored last time.
Actually the Tory vote share is more or less identical to what happened in the 2017 election – the difference is that the Labour vote has collapsed, and the Brexit Party is on 17 per cent, up from the 4.6 per cent scored by Ukip back then (though less than the high water mark of 25 per cent in the 2015 general election). The Lib Dems and the rest are nowhere.
There are lots of cross currents going on there, but the next effect is a swing from Labour to the Conservatives and, rather more strongly, from Labour to the Brexit Party.
The background is clear. Rightly or wrongly, people in Great Grimsby feel left behind; that when we entered the EU in 1973 we sacrificed the fishing trade; and that free movement has not done the town any favours. It has been, according to this view, “left behind”. It voted 70 per cent leave in the 2016 referendum.
So is Nigel Farage maybe right after all?
Yes and no.
If you recall, his strategy is to leave sitting Tory MPs alone, but to go on the attack in safe Labour seats where, like Grimsby, there has been a Labour MP for decades, and where there is cultural resistance to voting Tory. So the Labour vote will swing the Farageists, and either the Tory will gain the seat as a result; or the swing to the Brexit Party will be so dramatic that one of Nigel’s own will be entering the Commons.
Of course we cannot know this for sure. There is no parallel universe where the Brexit Party isn’t standing, and the Labour vote collapses anyway. The fact that Labour has gone from around 40 per cent of the vote in 2017 – a surprisingly good show – to about half of that now, might suggest Onn is doing better than the party nationally, on that measure.
But if the Farage strategy is right, it looks like he may have overdone it. He may have, as Michael Caine might say, “blown the bloody doors off”. The idea was that the Brexit party would allow Boris to squeak home and deliver Brexit – but with a sold bloc of Brexit Party MPs to keep him honest to the Brexit cause.
Instead, we may be looking at a very substantial Tory majority indeed – and possibly even a landslide, with no Brexit Party representation in the Commons at all. The anecdotal evidence suggests that in places such as Stoke-on-Trent North (a seat where Boris Johnson has to win to be forming a stable government) the “Get Brexit Done” message is getting through. If the Tories are winning in Grimsby, on anything like this sort of showing, then a comfortable majority and more is now coming into view. Remember too, the Tory MPs will have been purged of the likes of Ken Clarke, owe Johnson for their win, and be mostly very loyal.
After all, Grimsby is, formally, number 45 on the Tories’ target seat list, some way on from Stoke North (target number 36) and these Leave-inclined seats in the North Midlands and Wales would represent a new electoral a base for the Tories. They will be compensating for losses in Scotland, London and the south of England with some stunning symbolic victories. But not only that though: Boris Johnson will be responsible for the emergence of a new kind of politics – of “culture wars”.
Other Labour losses, by the way, might include unseating Dennis Skinner in Bolsover (target number 70 – 5.7 per cent swing to win); Tony Blair’s old seat in Sedgefield (target 91 – 7.3 per cent swing to win); or Peter Mandelson’s in Hartlepool (target 110 – 9 per cent, on the outer reaches).
Thus, on December 12th the Conservatives might fail to hold Richmond Park or take apparently easy targets such as Canterbury or Kensington – where Remain is strong – but do far better than the average in places where, a few years ago, the idea of a Tory MP was science fiction stuff. Even in 1977, in the depths of the then Labour government’s unpopularity, the party was still able to hang on in the by-election that saw Austin Mitchell sent to parliament, succeeding no less a figure than the social democratic guru Anthony Crosland. Labour heritage in the North is strong – but not invulnerable. If the Tories wind up with, say, a 16-point lead on Labour, no amount of tactical voting can save us form a strong and stable Johnson administration.
The time has come, then, to imagine Boris Johnson not just winning, but winning big, and what a full five-year term under him would mean: dismantling the welfare state and public services; the suppression of the franchise; the politicisation of the civil service and the judiciary; tax cuts for the rich; further weakening of worker rights; and a general further skewing in the machinery of the British state towards the interest of the Tory party.
To me, it feel very much like the 1980s – a split centre-left opposition, and a reluctance on the part of so many to conceive that anyone would be nasty and selfish enough to vote for the deceitful lying Conservatives, let alone that charlatan Johnson. You’d be better believe that they can, and they will. Even in Grimsby.