The Conservatives cannot be afraid of standing for something. But time in which to learn that lesson is running out
Nic Conner, writing at the Commentator.com
Calm down everyone: breathe in, hold it, hold it a little longer and let it out slowly. OK you are with me again; there is no need to panic.
The Tories lost 335 out of 1451 council seats they had. That is 335 council seat lost during a mid term election. But the Conservative Party did not lose last Thursday. Yes, UKIP did well – though not as well as the media has been making out. It won 147 seats to the Conservative Party’s 1116, Labour’s 538 and the Lib Dems’ 352 in what should be UKIP homeland.
I’m not taking anything away from UKIP here, but for the Tories to lose 335 council seats halfway through a Government term is to be expected. In the past you would expect those seats to go to the Lib Dems, local independents or even a Labour Party that was friendlier to anywhere south of Nottingham. Panic calls for an electoral pact quite simply amount to hysteria.
Let’s look at the different options we have. The first is the fully blown Tory-UKIP pact Jacob Rees-Mogg suggests. It is very much like what happens in Australia with the Liberal Party and the Nationals. It would involve a tactical selection of a number of UKIP candidates standing in safe Tory seats and Tories not standing in places where UKIP has a better chance at eating away at a majority. Certain (Shadow) Cabinet posts would be left to senior UKIPers, like we have now with the Coalition.
But could you see Jacob Rees-Mogg giving up his 4914 majority for Nigel Farage, or Michael Fabricant giving up his 17683 majority for Paul Nuttall? No, not just because someone like Fabricant would then lose his celebrity, just as his Lib Dem counterpart Lembit Opik did when he left Parliament, but because the local association would not have it.
Imagine CCHQ going to a safe Tory seat and telling the local association it must give up its healthy majority to UKIP. It would, quite rightly, send that poor campaign director packing back to Milbank.
The other options would not be of any gain to UKIP. UKIP might stand down candidates in Tory marginals in return for Tories not standing in Conservative no-hope constituencies – but any offer like this would be insulting to UKIP and not recognise it as an independent party that needs to be taken seriously.
So what is there to be done about UKIP? As we have seen in by-elections, UKIP is a force to be taken seriously. It has taken votes off all three of the big old parties and it has brought people who never voted before to come to the polls enthusiastically.
And this is because people know what UKIP stands for. They don’t necessarily know what UKIP policies are – UKIP itself doesn’t know what its policies are – but they know they stand for something, be it anti-immigration, anti-EU, building an aspiration nation, or pro-smoking in pubs.
UKIP doesn’t need policies like the big three parties do. It can continue to point the finger without having to offer solutions because it will never become the largest party.
The rise of UKIP is down to people getting fed up with Third Way politics, the politics of focus groups. They want to know what politicians stand for. UKIP is picking up its support from this anti-politics vote because people are fed up with appeasing the Islington set.
The Conservatives, since the budget, are back in the game. But if David Cameron wants to be out and out Prime Minster, with a workable majority, he needs to find his inner conservative – a new form of conservatism being borne on his back benches that any real Conservative can get behind.
If the Conservative Party wants to win outright, an electoral pact with UKIP is simply not an option. But there is something UKIP can offer: a working demonstration that fear of putting people off is futile. The Conservatives cannot be afraid of standing for something. But time in which to learn that lesson is running out.
Nic Conner is Campaign Director of The Bow Group. You can follow him on Twitter @niconner