Could more Tory MP defections be in the pipeline?

Could more Tory MP defections be in the pipeline?

From ex-LAB MP Nick Palmer

The style of the cartoon here will be nostalgic for longer-standing PBers – it comes from Marf, whose work often used to adorn PB columns. She’s flourishing and pursuing other careers, but I asked her to do one for my local CLP for old times’ sake. We’re using it to recruit new members from among “things are awful but what can one do?” people, who are really rather a large slice of the electorate these days.

Personally, I’ll confess that I’m not especially anti-Johnson. In the area of animal welfare, which is my main focus these days, his government has been better than most so far. But I wanted to address a curious feature of the current situation. We are all counting heads among the Tory rebels, who essentially are saying they can no longer support the Prime Minister. Will they reach 54? Who knows?

But suppose they don’t. What are they going to do at election time? Stand on a platform of “vote Conservative even though I think the leadership is unfit for office”? Loyal Tories won’t vote for them because of their disloyalty, and their opponents will simply lift their choicest criticisms and use them in their own leaflets. “If you don’t like the Government”, they will say,”why not vote to remove it?”

Some dissidents will just quietly retire and eye the spectacle from a distance, wryly shaking their heads. But I wonder if we’re not going to see a significant number of defections. Those used to be common, but have been unfashionable at Parliamentary level in recent years. One reason is that late switches tend to be career-ending – the other parties will have chosen their candidates, so the best they can hope for is a seat in the Lords. 

So might we expect to see some now, before selections get seriously under way? Christian Wakeford, the sole current defector, will I think get reselected, because he did it in good time and has worked hard for his new party since. And that’s generally the mood in most Labour CLPs. Whereas in 2017 and 2019, there was a burning desire to champion a strong socialist alternative, these days most Labour people are just fed up with losing, and if someone crosses the floor, there isn’t much appetite to hold their past views against them. 

The obvious timing for floor-crossing is the conference season in September, when it will have maximum impact and it will be clear if the challenge to Johnson has failed. We’ve seen rumours of multiple defections both ways in the past which came to nothing. This time, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer was Labour MP for Broxtowe, 1997-2010.

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