Return to our Fearlessly Brexit series – 2020 and the European elections



With the European elections over and an uncertain future looming for the UK, perhaps it’s time we revisited our recent Brexit series. Theresa May has tearfully announced she will be stepping down from her post as Prime Minister, leaving the job open for the candidate who will, in all probability, lead the country through the Brexit process.

This means the Conservative Party needs to select its new leader for the unenviable task of delivering Brexit. Obviously we know how the selection process works in a democracy – but what kind of outcome would be best for the country as a whole? This week, we’re imagining what FF’s 2020 process might be able to teach the government in terms of appealing to its core demographic, and how imagining a “perfect customer” — or in this case, a “perfect voter” — might look. Whoever ends up being the next PM, they’ll have to appeal specifically to this ideal voter in order to avoid a political deadlock — so what might they look like?

As we head towards a mysterious-looking future, there are a number of demands that will need to be answered. For the Conservatives, many of whom are Remainers, the “perfect voter” that they’ll need to appeal to won’t be one of the growing number of hard-line Brexiteers who, this week, voted (in protest or otherwise) for the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage’s hastily-assembled hardline anti-EU platform. As we’ve learned already, one of the biggest issues facing the current government is navigating the broad spectrum of views within its own party; just as the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, has long been a critic of the EU, May herself (among many others, including potential PR Boris Johnson) have been staunchly pro-Europe. The voters they’ll need to target in the coming months will likely need to be the many left-leaning voters who are less than keen on Brexit but also don’t support a second referendum, as well as the traditional Conservative voters who support a softer version of Brexit. Appealing to hard Brexiteers would be a risky strategy for a party that’s far from united on the subject.

In short, the angry, right-leaning Brexiteer is not what the new leader’s Perfect Voter will look like – so the Jacob Rees-Mogg fringes of the party may not be the best choice of candidate for the party.

But, with growing support for a second referendum on the left — leading to an upswing in Liberal Democrat votes from leftists who don’t trust Labour to fully support a reversal of Article 50 — the government will also need to hold fast against potential challenges from other parties, given that the current crisis could lead to a general election being called at any time. Their “perfect voter” is unlikely to be the hardline Remain crowd any more than the no-deal Brexit contingent, as – despite the number of party members who are dreading having to deliver a potentially catastrophic hard Brexit – this would simply alienate too many of their existing core voters, many of whom are already at risk of being poached by Farage.

So that means no kombucha-drinking lefties or metropolitan liberals, either.

The country is in crisis, with anger and frustration boiling up over the current political deadlock; a sense of democratic will being ignored is fostering resentment and rebellion among the right, while the left seethes at the perceived unfairness of the original vote.

The only thing that can help the Tories in this situation is – just like any business – the ability to isolate and appeal strongly to a section of the audience in a way that will give them a firm base and a mandate to lead without triggering an election. In this age of PR politics, the idea of being all things to all people is a popular one, but whichever party ends up in power must accept that there is no way to navigate Brexit without making some enemies along the way. The trick will be in making sure they keep the ones that will matter most, now and in the future — not just the voters who will support their current Brexit platform and then abandon them the second things are done, which is a very real and valid risk given the unpopularity of nearly any given outcome for Brexit.

Businesses will easily recognise this as the basis of “audience segmentation” – you can’t make everyone like you, so you choose a specific target audience who will love you.

In this age of softly-softly soundbite politics, have the two main parties forgotten this principle? It works in politics just as it does in business – in fact, businesses need to identify their own “perfect voter” in order to survive, which of course is what 20-20 is all about.

That’s why the question needs to be asked. Imagine that Brexit ends up grinding the nation to a halt — who will be the government’s bread and butter in the coming months and years?

It probably won’t be hard Brexiteers or opportunistic Remainers — it will be those who believe most strongly in the Conservatives’ core values. The “perfect voter” might just be the younger Conservatives who support the party because they believe in traditional social values, a small state and the rule of law. In this instance, the Conservatives’ only hope is to elect a leader who matches these values and can use Brexit as a means to delivering them.