The swivel-eyed loons of the Conservatives and the fruitcakes of UKIP are natural bedfellows
When describing the merits of our fellow man we are predisposed towards hostility. This is because for every positive adjective there are two negative adjectives. For every man who is genial, two are boorish and crabbed. For every suave gentleman there are a couple of fawning bores. I could go on, but I might be accused of drawling or droning.
When a senior Conservative figure referred to his parties association members as swivel-eyed loons on Friday, he was merely succumbing to the limits of the English language. Had he carried a thesaurus with him, he might have been able to find the words to express his gratitude to the people who keep him eating in Westminster smokehouses. In the event, he did something that very few politicians can get away with. He said what he really thinks.
Before Swivelgate another Conservative managed to successfully avoid such pitfalls when discussing the grassroots activists of the centre-right. Consummate gentleman and all-round good egg Jacob Rees-Mogg set an admirable example to his colleagues by steering the party away from hubris and towards stark reality. With characteristic charm and pointed politeness he extended the hand of friendship towards UKIP by mooting the possibility of an electoral pact. His conduct is commendable at a time when most of his party are wallowing in denial, if not actively attacking their closest ideological allies.
I had the pleasure of hearing him speak in the House of Commons last week. I say ‘hearing’ because I couldn’t see him. He sits directly below the Stranger’s Gallery. He is a backbencher in every sense of the word. When the Speaker called his name, the necks of my fellow strangers craned forward in an attempt to catch a glimpse. Despite being known affectionately as the right honourable member for the early twentieth century, it is forward looking members like Rees-Mogg that will shape the future of the Conservative party. When electoral oblivion forces the resignation of David Cameron and his fellow wets, Rees-Mogg will still be there. With a pulsing intellect like his he surely won’t remain a backbencher for too many more years.
Back in the present it is becoming increasingly obvious that short of an economic miracle we are heading towards another hung parliament, and another five years of stifling centrism of one flavour or another. Call me a pessimist, but diluted-diet-austerity-lite is unlikely to produce any inspiring economic results before the general election.
If we assume that the UKIP percentage of the vote at the next general election will fall somewhere between the results they obtained in 2010 and the current polling figures, then the two parties would jointly attract enough votes to win in almost every key marginal seat. This would deprive Labour of victory by default, and snatch the crown from the hands of the Liberal Democrat kingmakers. With Conservative party prospects in a downward spiral, this may be the only way to stop the perpetual stagnation that is the inevitable result of a disparate coalition.
But can it happen? Not before the General Election, and not whilst David Cameron is leader of the Conservatives. Whether or not it will happen after that depends on how many seats his party loses as a result of the UKIP ascendancy. This will be easy to calculate, and the response will be instant. On election night I imagine that much of the analysis will be devoted to this subject. Pollsters will add together the total number of votes received by both UKIP and the Conservatives in any given constituency, and conclude that were they combined it would have resulted in victory. UKIP would of course lose many of the voters that it has attracted from the other parties in a blue and purple coalition. If we make the generous estimate that this amounts to a third of their voters, the numbers still allow for an electoral majority in most marginal seats. It may not be ideal, but it is an easier fit than a Conservative Liberal coalition, and a much happier prospect for the centre-right than a Liberal Labour coalition.
There is a significant part of the Conservative party that will never allow such a coalition to form. Several influential frontbenchers and many more backbenchers would vehemently oppose any such move. They can be defeated, however. The only currency of any worth in politics is the popular vote, and this is what will dictate the need for unity. The first past the post system that the Conservatives fought so hard to keep is brutal towards fractured parties. This means that ultimately the parties of the centre-right will need to come together if they are to win a majority again.
For a Conservative / UKIP coalition to work both parties would have to change. For the Conservatives this would mean that the Europhiles would take the place of the Eurosceptics at the malcontent’s picnic. Unity in this area is a crucial step in the right direction for a party that has somewhat lost its way in recent years. For UKIP it would mean having to accept slightly diluted versions of their policies. Nigel Farage has been quite open in saying that he would strike a deal with the devil for an EU referendum, and so I don’t think this is beyond the realms of possibility.
The swivel-eyed loons of the Conservatives and the fruitcakes of UKIP are natural bedfellows. There is a significant overlap in the fruity, swivelling ranks. None of these people would wish to deprive one another of victory if the alternative is another Labour government. Perhaps it is time for the loons to take control of the asylum.
Daniel Jackson pushes paper at a London based centre-right think tank. Between meddling in the dark arts and raising his young family he occasionally tweets at @danieljksn