…but it’s time he cut Clegg loose.
The growth of UKIP over the last few years has been nothing short of remarkable. After polling roughly 3% in the 2010 General Election, UKIP has been consistently polling around 15% this year and topped the European elections last week on 27.5%. On first impression, this should scare the hell out of the Tory party. Ukip is, after all, a right wing party. As such, many a pundit have drawn parallels between the situation the Conservative party finds itself in today and that faced by Labour in the 1980s with the SDP. But there are reasons to believe that this time may be different.
For one thing, the recent growth of UKIP has not been exclusively at the expense of the Conservative party. It is true that in its formative years UKIP derived much of its support from disaffected Tories. This was primarily due to the nature of the party as a single issue entity and, until UKIP came to town, fretting about Europe seemed the preserve of the Tory right (with some notable exceptions). It was therefore natural that as the Tory party consistently failed to act tough enough on Europe these same disaffected Tories would find refuge in the embrace of Ukip. But things have changed. The growth of Ukip has transformed it from a single issue pressure group into a genuine political party with a broad (if uncosted) manifesto. This transformation, combined with the general rise of voter disillusionment with the mainstream political parties as well as the fact that the Lib-dems are no longer the main beneficiary of this disillusionment, means Ukip supporters no longer hail exclusively from well to do suburbia, but also from areas traditionally associated with the working class. As the recent European and local election results attest, Ukip now pose an existential threat not just Tory marginals, but to many Labour marginals as well.
So why should the Tory party not mitigate some of these potential losses by forming an electoral pact with Ukip? This is for several interrelated reasons. The first concerns those 50% of individuals who voted Ukip at the European elections but intend to vote for another party in 2015. Of these, twice as many intend to revert back to the Conservative party as those who plan on voting for Labour.
The remaining reasons concern the rest; minus the hard-core Kippers. The second reason to hold out, therefore, is because the economic recovery is starting to pay dividends, as the narrowing Labour lead in national polls attests. The economic recovery will lead to a much larger aversion to risk among the electorate. Many Ukip voters in the marginal seats will realise that by voting Ukip they are increasing the chance of a labour victory and therefore potentially jeopardising the nascent recovery and conclude that it is a risk not worth taking. The third reason is Europe itself. Some of those in the remaining 50% are the same people who stuck with Ukip during its days as a single issue party. For these voters, quitting Europe is almost their raison d’etre. Thanks to Ed Miliband’s suicidal aversion to offering a referendum, many of them will conclude that if by voting Ukip they are letting in Labour they are, by extension, undermining their chances of getting a referendum on the issue. Many will, therefore, swallow their pride and opt for the Conservative candidate. This leads to the final reason why there is no need for a pact. It is Ed Miliband himself. It is almost impossible to comprehend just how unpopular he is; the reasons for this unpopularity are myriad and to list would require a separate article. But, fairly or not, his personal unpopularity will persuade many undecided swing voters and some of those remaining Ukip voters, to vote Conservative. And this is just in those marginal seats with a Tory incumbent in mind. In those marginal seats with a Labour incumbent, it is not inconceivable that many voters who would never vote Tory, but are adverse to Ed Miliband or are feeling the benefits of economic recovery, may even opt to vote Ukip (or Green) instead, and in doing so tilt the balance in the Conservative’s favour. It is for this reason why a Tory-Ukip pact may even be unhelpful. If Ukip are seen as being in bed with the Tory party, those voters who dislike Ed Miliband but really hate the Tory party, may be forced to stick with Labour instead, as Ukip will then be a tainted brand, much like the Lib-Dems are today.
This leads to the second part of this blog. If Cameron has any way of instigating a leadership coup in his Lib-Dem rivals he do so. Whilst it is well known that on a personal level both men get on well (if not as well as during the halcyon days of the rose garden) and that Cameron wishes to ensure that in the event of another hung parliament there is someone from the Lib-Dem right leading that party, he should re-evaluate the situation. The Lib-Dems are a spent force, but their disintegration has mainly benefited Ed Miliband and his complacent 35% strategy, as ex Liberal Democrat supporters of a leftish persuasion have flocked to Labour. One of the best hopes of undermining this undemocratic strategy is to ensure that a credible face of the lib-Dem left is leading that parting into the 2015 general election. It may be too late. But there is still a chance that at least some of those ex Lib-Dems will decide to give their new leader the benefit of the doubt and return to the fold and thus take with them precious Labour votes in key seats. If Cameron really is gunning for a Tory majority, he needs to forget about the day after the election when, in the event of a hung parliament, another coalition needs to be forged, and go out of his way to smash his opponents, not appease them. He also no longer has the excuse that the government is too busy governing to indulge in partisan warfare. The extended recess and the fact that this has been a government of (thankfully) minimal legislation as of late, means this excuse rings hollow. Cameron obviously cannot wield the knife himself, and if Lord Oakeshott get his way he will not have to, but I am sure that there are ways he can help facilitate his removal in other ways.
Cameron cannot be complacent. A majority is far from likely to fall into his lap, especially if his goes about being rude to those Ukip supporters mentioned above. But a majority is still possible, especially if he sticks the knife into his erstwhile ally Clegg.