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By Peter Hoskin
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Remember
when Nigel Farage mentioned the possibility of an
electoral pact
between his party and the Conservatives, back in September?
His condition for any such deal was “an absolute promise, written in blood,
that they would give us a full, free and fair referendum on our continued
membership of the EU.” He was happy, of course, for that referendum to be held
after 2015.

Mr
Farage’s position has rather shifted now that David Cameron has promised a referendum
on Europe. During an interview
on the Andrew Marr Show
in January, he said that the “full, free and fair
referendum” should come “before the next election”. He added that a pact would
be “virtually impossible to contemplate” while David Cameron is Tory leader.


The
reason I mention all this is because, today, Mr Farage’s anti-Cameron proviso
appears to have firmed up. The Daily Telegraph contains an
intriguing story
about a recent dinner meeting between the Ukip leader and
Rupert Murdoch – apparently, their first together – during which the former explained
his plans to the latter. The paper reports:

“[Mr Farage]
said he will then set out plans to join forces with the Conservatives to fight
Labour in the 2015 general election, but only if David Cameron agrees to step
down as the party leader, well-placed sources said.”

This
is reminiscent of Ed Miliband’s old
tactic
with the Lib Dems: talk up the prospects of a LibLab coalition, but
add that it’s only possible sans Clegg. The mischief is clear in both cases. Mr
Miliband wanted to drive a wedge between the Lib Dem leadership and the party
base, and Mr Farage wants to do likewise in the case of the Tories. After all,
there could be votes to be found in the split.

But
this is where Conservatives should be fearful. The Lib Dems have generally
rebuffed
Miliband’s crude advances – yet will Tory MPs do likewise? There
are many who take the (to my mind, horribly wrong-headed and short-sighted) view
that the party’s best hopes reside in joining forces with Ukip. The
result in Eastleigh has only heightened this sentiment.

And
that means trouble for Mr Cameron, should he increasingly be regarded as an
impediment to any such pact. Tory MPs are already
murmuring
against his leadership. Nigel Farage is chivvying them on.

> P.S.
Paul Goodman has written extensively about the possibility of a Tory-Ukip pact.
It’s worth reading his ConservativeHome posts here
and here.

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