The rapid rise of the Brexit Party in the polls just days after we launched formally has sent a shiver down the spine of the Conservative Party. This sense of apprehension is well deserved, as far as I am concerned. The omens for Theresa May do not look good.
Take Councillor Barry Lewis, the Conservative leader of Derbyshire county council. On Friday, he confirmed that his group recently supported a motion not to take part in the European elections on May 23.
Just think about that. The faithful servants of one of the oldest political parties in the world are on strike. They refuse to go out and canvass, such is their anger – and, no doubt, sheer embarrassment – at the appalling mess created by our dishonest prime minister.
I am sure that the Derbyshire Tories will not be alone in their protest. But just as worrying for the party is the sort of people it plans to field next month.
The lead Tory candidate in the North West region is Sajjad Karim. He is an ardent Remainer and an advocate of a second referendum. In London, the situation is even worse. Charles Tannock, number two on the party’s list in the capital, is such a fanatical supporter of the EU that he is on record as having said he is “ashamed to be British” because of the Brexit result. Indeed, he has now secured an Irish passport.
These are mere snapshots but they illustrate how horribly confused and divided the Tory party has become. That its principal players are happy to make such anti‑democratic pronouncements is even more troubling.
Along with Boris Johnson, I doubt that many potential leadership candidates will dare to go out pounding the streets over the course of the next few weeks. Frankly, you can’t blame them.
There is a way out of this for Mrs May, should she choose to take it. She could conclude her courtship with Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party and sign up to a permanent customs union and alignment with single market rules. If she were to do this, support for her party would collapse, but at least she wouldn’t have to face the prospect of a humiliation on May 23. This is the checkmate that she has, amazingly, succeeded in getting herself into.
In fact, I am pretty certain that No 10 will decide it is better to take the hit that is coming its way, rather than destroy the party. But it may be too late anyway.
In previous European election campaigns, I led Ukip to considerable success. The undeniable fact is that in subsequent general elections, many Conservative voters who backed us in the European poll returned to the fold. They lent their votes to Ukip, but didn’t want to part with them altogether.
This time, things appear to be different. Millions of natural Tory voters have said emphatically that they will never vote Conservative again. And my strong sense is that they mean it.
Far from being seen as the party to solve the EU question, the Tories are now actively regarded by a growing number of people as being a major part of the problem.
Under Theresa May’s stewardship, there has been near-anarchy on the Tory benches in Parliament for the past couple of years, as MPs have deliberately gone against the party’s manifesto and done everything they can to thwart the referendum result. Her own chicanery makes it unclear whether she has merely tolerated this behaviour or encouraged it.
We have gone beyond the point of playing the blame game, though. A few days ago, a remarkable thing happened. An elderly gentleman who has to use a walking stick travelled by train from Brighton to London. He found the offices of the Brexit Party and hand-delivered to us an envelope containing his £100 cash donation.
The reason he travelled those 100‑odd miles there and back is because he doesn’t use the internet and he wanted to be certain that his money would reach us. It did, and we are extremely grateful for it. The polling evidence so far suggests that new Brexit Party voters like this gentleman will stick with us into the next general election.
The earthquake that I caused via the 2014 European elections may have died down in Westminster, but out in the country the aftershocks have had a permanent effect. People’s opinions have changed.
Now, citizens no longer just want to leave the EU, they want to change politics altogether. They want to break the current two-party system and replace it with a Parliament that reflects the views of the country. They know that Britain deserves so much better. Just like the Brexit Party, they want to change politics for good.