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12 November 2019

Nigel Farage has given Boris Johnson a reason to celebrate

For the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, the path to success has become more complicated.

By Stephen Bush

Nigel Farage will stand down in the 317 seats that the Conservative Party currently holds. Is that a boost for Boris Johnson?

Well, nine in ten Brexit Party voters say they will vote Conservative if there is no Farage party on the ballot paper. So while our electoral system is eccentric enough that it may turn out that the 10 per cent are more electorally potent than the 90 per cent, it’s likely that this increases Johnson’s chances of holding onto the seats he has.

As it stands – though anything can happen in six weeks – this doesn’t really matter as far as the Conservative-Labour battlegrounds are concerned. In those, Johnson is already doing well enough to get the seats that he needs to win a majority. But that Farage is still planning to stand candidates in Labour-held seats means that in the event of a Labour revival, Johnson may be in big trouble.

But it’s big news in the two battlegrounds that look likely to decide the election: the south of England, where the Conservatives compete with the Liberal Democrats, and Scotland, where they are fighting to hold their 13 seats against the SNP.

In St Albans and Cheltenham, the reputational damage of a tie-up with Farage deepens the Conservative problem. But those are constituencies that the Liberal Democrats really ought to win no matter what: they are heavily Remain and have a long history of Lib Dem success at a local level.

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But Farage’s decision will complicate the Lib Dems’ path to success in seats where there is a large Remain vote but a majority voted to Leave; not just seats they hope to gain this time, like St Ives, but seats they hope to hold, like Eastbourne.

Meanwhile, in Scotland it’s easy to forget that although a majority of voters backed Remain, 40 per cent did not. Eight of the 13 constituencies that the Conservatives are defending had a higher Leave vote than the national average. As I’ve written before, part of the story of Scottish Conservatives’ success is that, north of the border, they have become the Leave party of last resort.

So Johnson can celebrate: that the Brexit Party is standing down increases his chances of seeing off the SNP and Liberal Democrat threats. If he can maintain his strong position in the Conservative-Labour battleground, a parliamentary majority awaits him.

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