A Tory-Ukip pact? Up to you, guys. But you do know there’s an easier way, right?

by Stephen Tall on May 6, 2013

farage and cameronUkip’s spectacular showing at last week’s local elections has got the Tories spooked. The full realisation is sinking in that this may not be a one-off eruption of popular protest.

Nigel Farage’s band of modern-life-is-rubbish disciples will likely top next year’s Euro polls. Such momentum may propel them towards a double-digit general election performance in 2015. If so, the Tories’ hope of a majority is dead: Ed Miliband will become prime minister as leader of the largest single party.

Though the local elections were scarcely a bundle of laughs for the Lib Dems, there’s a fair amount of schadenfreude to be wrung out of observing all this. Take, for instance, today’s ConservativeHome survey indicating that two-thirds of Tory party members are open to a pact with Ukip, with 34% definitely wanting one.

Quite how a pact will diminish the Ukip vote and/or increase the Tory vote, I’m not sure. Will a potential Ukipper see the party allying with the Tories and think, “Ah, well now I know I shouldn’t take Mr Farage seriously”? Hmm, I doubt it. It seems more likely to encourage them to think, “Voting Ukip seems to get everyone’s attention – I’d better keep doing it.” If enough conservative-inclined voters think that way, look forward to seeing Ed Miliband waving from the steps of Number 10 in two years’ time.

Of course the Ukip threat is a product of the Tory party’s own failure to accept what’s staring it in the face. As Tim Bale points out to ConservativeHome readers today, if the party had any sense it would embrace electoral reform:

There really is a serious risk that Nigel Farage might split the right-wing vote in this country and therefore let Labour in on just over a third of the vote. … We need to fix that system to take account of the fact that, for whatever reason, British voters are no longer content to stick with the two parties that first-past-the-post inherently favours. The only way we can do that is to plump for PR – not the miserable little (and non-proportional) compromise that was AV, but a fully proportional system like the Mixed Member Proportional variant chosen by New Zealand in the 1990s and which was recently re-endorsed by them in a referendum. One of today’s grandest political paradoxes, however, is that those most determined not to fix Britain’s broken electoral system are those who would most obviously benefit from that chance – a Conservative Party that hasn’t won an overall majority for a full twenty years and (unless Labour implodes) doesn’t look set to do so again any time soon.

I made a similar point here on LDV over a year ago:

It is some irony that it is those Tories who were most viscerally opposed to electoral reform who worry most about the rise of Ukip. Yet Nigel Farage’s mini-insurgence would be of little consequence to Tories, most notably in the Eurosceptic south-west where first-past-the-post may help the Lib Dems to fend off a Tory challenge, if voters could rank their preferred parties and candidates.

There is an odd lack of self-confidence within the Tory party. For all their talk of the wish to build a Conservative majority at the next election, they seem perversely unwilling to try and do so by persuading a majority of the public to back conservatism at the ballot box. I suppose I should be grateful the Tories haven’t yet grasped that their best hope of keeping Britain conservative is to offer the people true democracy.

England (to a lesser extent the UK) is intrinsically a small-c conservative country. It is primarily the big-C Conservative party’s nervous inability to accept that simple truth, combined with the party’s innate assumption it should rule alone and on its own terms, which prevents it building that small-c conservative electoral hegemony.

John Stuart Mill once famously said: “I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative.” It increasingly looks like he was only half right.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.