An outright Tory UKIP electoral pact may be off the cards. But there is still space for a non-aggression pact.
Recent reports in The Telegraph have hinted that Nigel Farage may be harboring a lingering desire to rejoin the Conservatives. Presumably the price would be a seat in the Lords, or maybe even a safe Tory seat. The loss of Nigel Farage would be a hammer blow to UKIP, given that few other members of the party are known or recognised. A Farage-less UKIP would probably drift further into Old Labour territory of socially conservative yet economically protectionist populism.
It’s no secret that senior Tories view UKIP as a squalid little outfit filled with amateurs and cranks who will be more trouble than they’re worth. In return, many in UKIP see the Tories as aloof Hooray-Henrys, an elitist party in terminal decline clinging to a historic right to rule.
But similar arguments could me made with the Lib Dems and the Tories, yet they went as far as to form a government. UKIP are certainly in no position to barter for Cabinet places, but they know they have it well within their power to wreck Tory election hopes. An expected strong UKIP showing at the European Elections in May will serve as a reminder of this uncomfortable fact.
An unofficial alliance would certainly help both parties. For UKIP, it would legitimise their movement in the eyes of many would be supporters who are still unsure about them. It would allow UKIP to focus their modest resources on a few target seats, rather than trying to show the flag everywhere. It would also cement UKIP as a centre right party, arresting the left wing drift of recent months.
For the Tories, the primary threat on the right would be neutralised. UKIP cost the Tories up to a dozen seats in 2010; the 2015 election could be far worse. A detente with UKIP would throw a bit of red meat to the Tory right and go some way to appeasing the harliners who think Cameron is too soft.
The Tories and UKIP could also coordinate their fire on Labour, presenting a fiscally responsible, eurosceptic, immigrant wary front. This would be rallied against a Labour that would be painted as europhile, Britain hating spendaholics.
Granted, an informal uniting of the right could spark similar moves on the left, with the Lib Dems looking to form a Progressive Pact with Labour. This however would prove difficult as Labour and Lib Dems often battle for the same voter, and Labour are looking at the Lib Dems as a wolf looks at a wounded sheep; not as a potential ally.
The biggest stumbling block could well be UKIP grassroot members. Early members often came from the Conservative Party, so they may find an accord with CCHQ rather comforting. But for many new members this would be little short of betrayal. Some toil under the illusion that no agreement is needed, and that UKIP will sweep to power unaided. Others joined UKIP after years of being either apolitical or traditional Labour voters. UKIP appealed to others because it is seen as anti establishment, and therefore jumping into bed with the Tories, the establishment party, would be a bitter pill to swallow.
Interestingly, the Local elections fall on the same day as the European elections this year. UKIP are banking on the assumption that it’s a rare person who votes for different parties while in the same booth. CCHQ will be aware of this too.
Finally, don’t be surprised to see pockets of branch level coordination between UKIP and Conservatives. Tory High Command has varying degrees of control over branches, and UKIP has none. You can accuse the right of many things, but a lack initiative isn’t one of them.