A hard Brexit fringe has seized control of the Conservatives. That leaves millions of voters homeless. Could they swing the coming election?by Gaby Hinsliff / October 4, 2019 / Leave a comment
Will can remember the exact moment that he realised he no longer felt comfortable in the Conservative Party.
He had never been that keen on Theresa May, but hoped she would at least prove the “grown-up in the room” after the referendum; even as a Remain voter, he says, he could have accepted a sensibly negotiated Brexit. But then came the 2016 party conference in Birmingham, at which May dismissed people who consider themselves “citizens of the world” as “citizens of nowhere,” shallow-rooted types with little interest in what was best for their own country.
“I just thought you don’t actually want people like me in the party around anymore, do you?” says Will, who is in his mid-30s and joined the party under David Cameron. “It made me realise how tribal I had become without realising it. These scales fall from your eyes, and you realise how much bullshit you have swallowed over the years.” After months of soul-searching, he has resolved that at the next general election he will both vote and campaign for the Liberal Democrats. What is unusual about Will is that he isn’t just any voter; he’s a former Conservative parliamentary aide, whose girlfriend is still active in the party.
“I’ve always supported the Tories because I’m a fairly un-ideological, moderate person who just wants reasonable, pro-business policies,” he explains. “But this is a massively ideological project and I think it’s profoundly unconservative, or not my kind of conservatism anyway.”
Will is part of a longstanding tradition of pragmatic Tory thinking that abhors the idea of radical beliefs trumping practicalities. It’s a tradition that in recent times has often been defined against doctrinaire Europhobia, but it long predates that—stretching from Disraeli’s early One Nation Conservatism via Baldwin and a post-war revival under Harold Macmillan, to the so-called “wets” uneasy with the socially divisive aspect of the Thatcher years and ultimately to David Cameron, the leader who always insisted there was no such thing as “Cameronism”; no specific ideology, just an understanding of what works.
What worries Will isn’t just the economic consequences of a no-deal departure, but what he sees as hard Brexiteers’ apparent willingness to sacrifice anything—the Union, the queen, the legal and constitutional proprieties trampled in pursuit of a parliamentary prorogation that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously to be…