By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
THE PERSISTENCE OF THE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT VOTE IN EASTLEIGH WILL WORRY TORY STRATEGISTS BUT MORE WORRYING IS THE THREAT FROM NIGEL FARAGE'S POPULIST, ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT UKIP. THE PRIME MINISTER CAN NO LONGER TAKE THE UNITY OF THE TORY VOTE FOR GRANTED.
We have the usual simplistic debate taking place on Twitter and on the blogosphere this morning. Some read yesterday's disappointing Eastleigh result as proof that you can't win if you move to the Right. Others see the UKIP surge as proof that Cameron has to abandon what they describe as touchy-feely conservatism and reject EU membership (Nile Gardiner) or form an "alliance" with UKIP (Dan Hannan).
It's certainly true we had a candidate in Maria Hutchings who had 'Ukippy' views on Europe, immigration and gay marriage. The Tory literature in the campaign was certainly old school in its messaging (my report here). Additional ammo for the 'move-to-the-centre' crowd is the very real moves that Cameron has made in recent months – notably on an In/Out referendum – to shore up his Right flank. People like Lord Ashcroft who've said that you can't beat UKIP by focusing on Europe will feel somewhat vindicated. UKIP is more of a protest party than a party pursuing a rational agenda. Its election literature in Eastleigh promised tax cuts for "everyone" as well as control of immigration and the restoration of student grants and better pensions.
Those who say Cameron should ignore the unhappiness of those on the Right are nonetheless also kidding themselves. Some people will have voted against Maria Hutchings' old school
conservatism but my guess is that more of UKIP voters will have voted
against David Cameron. Many people from all parties and none voted UKIP yesterday but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the Tory Party is the biggest supplier of voters to Nigel Farage. UKIP doesn't need to win 20% or 15% or 10% to deny the Tories a majority. As I argued yesterday a big UKIP showing could put Ed Miliband into Number 10 even if Labour only get 35%.
Cameron must ignore the false choices. He must choose breadth over centrist narrowness that alienates the Right or Right-wing narrowness that offends floating voters. We need a full spectrum, big orchestral, across-the-stage Conservatism. A successful Conservative Party will be as committed to the NHS as it is to a vote on Europe. As committed to job creation as to cutting the deficit. As worried about the marginal tax rates facing the poor as the rich. Putting it simplistically, before the last election Cameron neglected the Right and he sowed the seeds for UKIP's growth. In recent times he has lost his outreach credentials – notably by pursuing the NHS reforms and allowing Labour to present the Tories as a party of the rich. The greatest risk to him is that he looks inauthentic – swinging from modernisation to traditionalism.
Lots to talk about at next Saturday's ConHome 'Victory 2015' Conference…
PS On another occasion we'll look at the Tories' organisational challenge and what Eastleigh taught us about our ground operation.