By Tim Montgomerie
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Andy Coulson, David Cameron's former head of communications, has written an article for the October edition of GQ (out this week) in which he gives some advice on how the Tories might counter UKIP. In summary…
- David Cameron, Ken Clarke and every Tory should abandon "dismissive, arrogant and downright rude" attitudes to UKIP's members.
- UKIP's key selling point is not Europe or even immigration but the way it has presented itself as a home for voters unhappy with mainstream politics and politicians.
- UKIP's key vulnerability is that it is inauthentic in presenting itself as politics' outsiders – "A party that claims to be anti-sleaze," he writes, "is riddled with the
same problems of vanity and
self-interest that inflict all the
major parties… and before any
real power has been secured or
- Nigel Farage should actually be seen as Nigel "Mirage" – many of his party's MEPs have had questionable ethics records, his economic policies don't add up (they have a £120 billion black hole, Coulson claims) and, far from improving politics, UKIP adds to the crudeness.
- A still tougher and more sceptical line from the Tories on Europe ahead of next year's EP elections is needed as well as a focus on competence. Overall: "The Conservatives should tread carefully on
immigration but never tire of talking about
fairness, particularly on jobs, welfare, health
and the cost of living."
Coulson concludes by recommending that the party abandons any pretence that it can ignore the threat posed by UKIP. He calls for an energetic focus on its weaknesses:
"UKIP must be taken seriously so as to expose
just how empty-headed it really is. Every utterance must be recorded and analysed, every
speech given proper attention by some of the
bigger, more ambitious young brains in CCHQ,
every tweet matched where appropriate by a
sensible question applying targeted pressure to
UKIP policy. CCHQ should be concerned about
the make-up of UKIP’s party membership and,
of course, look for evidence of extreme views
in their candidates and members. But to brand
the entire party as racist or bonkers will always
Tory strategists will undoubtedly study Coulson's recommendations carefully and I haven't seen a better plan from any other senior Tory. In today's Times (£), however, I note that even the best tactics aren't going to address what is, in reality, a global phenomenon – a splintering of the Right (paralleling the split between progressive and blue collar voters on the Left):
"Last week’s Syria vote was only one expression of simmering discontent with establishment conservatism. A large section of activists and voters on the right hate any idea of foreign intervention. They oppose foreign aid. They don’t want to leave Europe because they want to be a global player but to pull up the drawbridge… UKIP, like the Tea Party in America and other anti-globalisation movements, will be hard to eliminate. Four-party politics is probably here to stay. The Coulson recipe may be the best short-term management tactic available to Mr Cameron but the genie is out of the bottle. What UKIP represents is unlikely to go away."
Read the full piece here.