WORDS: MARK GETTLESON
A lot has been made of Michael Fabricant’s pamphlet arguing for an electoral pact between the Conservatives and UKIP, but Mr Cameron would be wise to heed the advice of those around him who say, in the words of the late great Clive Dunn, “don’t panic.”
Mr Cameron has been the Prime Minister of a Coalition government, presiding over a period of economic unease. In the run-up to the 2015 general election, he will need to make the case not only for the success of his record, but how Conservatives governing alone would be superior to the status quo. He must walk a tightrope between incumbency and insurgency. In such a climate contrast with the Liberal Democrats will prove essential.
In a Daily Mail interview back in May, headlined “Lib Dems hold back Cameron on immigration", the Prime Minister strongly hinted at this approach. He declared: “Whether it’s capping welfare, limiting immigration, we have a programme that needs to be delivered… there is a list of things that I am looking forward to doing if I can win an election and run a Conservative-only government.”
Around three in ten people who told ComRes earlier this month that they intend to support UKIP still associate most heavily with the Conservatives, roughly the same number who identify with Mr Farage’s party. It seems likely that these voters, when presented by a David Cameron unshackled from the trappings of Coalition, will again see a Conservative Party they can support.
UKIP support is unquestionably growing, but we have been here before. In the wake of their 2004 European elections triumph, when the party surged ahead of the Liberal Democrats to win 16% of the vote, they also managed to push the Conservatives into fourth place in the Hartlepool by-election later the same autumn. This didn’t stop them getting 2% in the 2005 general election and pushing Labour into fourth place in Bromley a year later. Similarly, the emergent Green Party notched up 15% in the 1989 European elections only to receive less than 1% of the vote in 1992. Minor party politics involves many swings and a lot of roundabouts.
In truth, most British voters are highly inelastic. They are, however much they complain, comparatively loyal to the political party with which they most strongly identify. If a party cannot put down strong grassroots networks of support it will continue to fail, as was seen by the inability of the Liberal Democrats to translate Cleggmania into a solid vote and increased seat count. UKIP currently hold 0.2% of local authority seats across the country. The only council they have ever controlled, Ramsey in Cambridgeshire, has parish council status.
In a close election campaign where the nation will face the stark choice between David Cameron and an emboldened Ed Miliband as Prime Minister, UKIP worries should be fairly low down on their list.