The idea of an electoral pact with Ukip is crazy. Tories should take on Nigel Farage, not woo him

A broad range of factors has taken the party from the political fringes to a major force. But Cameron knows it would be mad, impracticable, and philosophically incoherent

Share
Related Topics

Ukip is that rare phenomenon in British politics, a lucky political party. Its current small, but significant impact has nothing to do with policies or even the projection of its reassuringly chirpy leader, Nigel Farage. External factors alone give them space on the political stage. Without these factors, Ukip would be nowhere. With them, the party is a force to be reckoned with up to the next election.

Above all, Farage should send a note of thanks to the Liberal Democrats for choosing the impossible challenges of power rather than an easy life in opposition. Before the Coalition was formed, the Lib Dems tended to be the protest vote of choice. Now Ukip is the most obvious vehicle for the lazily fashionable, thoughtless “plague on all your houses” vote. Almost certainly, the Liberal Democrats from the comfort of distant opposition would have won a by-election or two by now.

Intensity

Now some space is available for Ukip at a point when yet again Europe is a salient issue, arguably more so than at any juncture since the UK joined the Common Market, as it then was, in 1973. Once he has thanked Nick Clegg, Farage should express his gratitude to Conservative MPs who share his obsession with Europe thereby ensuring that the issue is viewed with a peculiar intensity.

Add in the third factor of tumultuous economic change, and a perfect storm is brewing for Ukip. If he had any more spare time perhaps  Farage should send another note of thanks to the various senior bankers who played their part in the crash of 2008, fuelling a sense of fear and insecurity that then fuels support for smaller parties. In the 1970s, the last era of persistent economic crisis, smaller parties flourished or threatened to do so.

This is the background that makes the apparent bungling stupidity of Rotherham Council, taking foster kids from Ukip supporting parents, such a dream story for Farage and his party.

The Rotherham saga is publicity about Ukip, but not about what it stands for as a party. There is no such publicity. Smaller parties are not scrutinised in Britain. Even the Liberal Democrats got off very lightly before they joined the Coalition. Conservative and Labour leaders and now Clegg have to move with extreme care, every word and announcement analysed endlessly. Farage pops up every now and again knowing that interviewers do not see him and his party as likely to win a single seat at the next election let alone to form a government.

Such narrow national prospects allow for slippery evasiveness and lazy policy-making. Currently, Ukip proposes tax cuts and spending increases that would destroy the credibility of the bigger parties, but few voters will have studied the policies in much detail, even in relation to Europe. Anthony Wells, of UK Polling Report, tells me that Ukip attracts a lot of voters, not because of Europe, but on the broader basis that the Conservative leadership is not right-wing enough.

This is why Conservative MPs have good cause to worry. Ukip is insubstantial, incoherent, incredible and the most significant electoral threat to the Conservatives for decades. It is highly unusual for a potential split to occur on the right in British elections. Normally, the anti-Conservative vote divides several ways. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher won landslides partly because Labour and the SDP split the anti-Tory vote.

Crazy

In the New Labour era, disillusioned Labour voters tended to switch to the Lib Dems. The Conservatives had the admittedly limited political space to the right of New Labour pretty much to themselves. At the next election, it seems likely that disillusioned Tories will for once have the alternative choice of a party now being proclaimed as “mainstream”. No wonder some Tory MPs want an electoral pact based on the pledge of a pre-election referendum on Europe.

Such an offer would be crazy for David Cameron to make and I would be amazed if he were to do so. A pact with Ukip would indicate chronic lack of electoral confidence and a coming together on Europe that is not reflected in the fundamentally different positions of both parties. Cameron wants to remain in the EU. Farage wants to leave. Anyway, the last thing any Prime Minister would want in the run-up to an election is a make-or-break referendum. Cameron already faces one on independence in Scotland. To have two in advance of an  election of uncertain outcome would be more than careless.

In one respect, Cameron and his party are lucky. Over time, the near-empty vessel of Ukip will sink. Indeed, assuming there is at some point a referendum on Europe, it would sink soon after the outcome were declared, its main mission resolved one way or another.

In addition, I doubt it would easily survive a change of leader. Bigger parties are fragile enough. Smaller ones are ultimately doomed. But for now, the party is on the stage acquiring momentum and enjoying good fortune. For Cameron, there is no scope for an electoral pact. Different parties rarely manage to negotiate such deals. Even the formal SDP/Liberal Alliance struggled to do so in the 1980s. Cameron has no choice but to take on Ukip rather than woo it.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This winner of the best new business in Shrops...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This winner of the best new business in shrops...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - Email Marketing Services

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are looking for a highly or...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The seven leaders of Britain's main political parties took part in the general election live debate (AFP)  

General Election 2015: The idea that one party can represent all that we believe in just doesn’t apply any more

Armando Iannucci
 

You don't have to pity Clarkson. But he raises an important point

Simon Kelner
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders