Toby Young is an associate editor of the Spectator and co-founder of two free schools
I read with interest Paul Goodman’s post on my “Country Before Party” vote-swapping campaign. He raises some important problems, but I don’t think they’re insurmountable.
He’s right to point out that only a third of Conservative members want an electoral pact with UKIP – and I suspect the percentage of Kippers who want one is even smaller. But I’m not proposing a full-blown pact. What I have in mind is a patchwork quilt of constituency-level agreements between UKIP and Tory activists whereby they agree to vote for whichever party’s candidate is best-placed to win in 2015 in certain key marginals.
Before dismissing this proposal out of hand, it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s precedent. Goodman says he’s pessimistic about supporters of both parties being able to reach agreement, but that’s precisely what happened on a limited scale in 2010 when local UKIP associations agreed not to oppose Conservative PPCs in five constituencies – three sitting MPs: Douglas Carswell (Clacton), Philip Davies (Shipley) and Philip Hollobone (Kettering); and two challengers: Janice Small (Batley and Spen) and Alex Story (Wakefield). All five are Eurosceptics, of course, but that’s hardly a minority view in the Tory Party. I’m optimistic that UKIP associations could be persuaded not to oppose more Eurosceptic PPCs in 2015 and Nigel Farage has hinted that UKIP’s National Executive wouldn’t stand in their way.
There were some findings in Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll that suggest sizable numbers of UKIP supporters would welcome an informal, grass-roots pact of this kind. Here’s the key paragraph from Ashcroft’s Introduction in which he’s discussing the “Defectors” – the 37 per cent of 2010 Tory voters who’ve deserted the party, most of them for UKIP:
“Despite their current voting intentions, more than half of Defectors say they want a Conservative government after the next election. And while fewer than a fifth are satisfied with Cameron’s performance as Prime Minister, three quarters say he would make the best PM of the three party leaders. Two thirds say that despite being dissatisfied with Cameron they would rather him in Downing Street than Ed Miliband. They rate the Tories ahead of Labour and the Lib Dems on every policy issue, especially the economy. …[T]hey are more likely than most to say they may change their mind on how to vote before the election.”
Some of these refugees will return to the Tory fold in 2015 willy nilly, but even more will come back if they think UKIP will get something in return, as they would under my scheme. And now we come to the nub of Goodman’s argument. The problem with the Country Before Party campaign, he says, is that UKIP finished behind the Tories in every seat in 2010 so it’s far from clear that there would be any constituencies in 2015 in which UKIP is better placed to win than the Conservatives. He allows that UKIP has beaten the Tories in four Parliamentary by-elections since 2010, but points out that by-election results aren’t a reliable guide to the general elections that follow.
This is where the European elections come into play. Unlike by-elections, the European elections are a reliable guide to general elections provided the results are placed in the proper context. My plan is to compare this year’s election results with those of 2009, try and calculate the swing to and from each party in each seat as far as that’s possible (some mapping difficulties here) and then predict the 2015 result by applying that multitude of swings to the 2010 result in all 650 constituencies. I spoke to a psephologist earlier this year who told me he’d made quite a bit of money betting on the 2005 result using precisely this model.
I don’t think it’s fanciful to imagine that when the same formula is applied to this year’s European election results, the model will spit out a handful of constituencies in which the UKIP candidate is predicted to come second in 2015 behind the Labour or Lib Dem incumbent. Those are the constituencies in which we’ll be urging Tories to vote UKIP. Admittedly, it’s unlikely that any Conservative associations will withdraw their PPCs in those seats, but if enough local activists heed the Country Before Party call it would be sufficient to put UKIP over the top in a handful of seats.
I’m not alone in this venture. So far, my co-conspirators include Raheem Kassam, the editor of Trending Central, James Delingpole, the well-known UKIP blogger, and the Bow Group’s Ben Harris-Quinney. But we need as much help as we can get if we’re going to make it fly. In particular, I’m looking for psephologists/pollsters who can help us build the model discussed above and website designers who can help us set up the site that will identify the key seats and create a secure forum where supporters of both parties can swap votes. In due course, we’ll also need an army of local activists in the target constituencies.
If you’re a supporter of either party and interested in getting involved, email me at CountryB4Party@gmail.com, identifying your constituency in the subject line. I genuinely believe that working together in this way is our best hope of stopping Miliband and securing a referendum in the next Parliament – and I trust I’ve now persuaded Paul Goodman to get on board.