At some point, the Conservatives and the part of UKIP that doesn’t want to be a permanent protest movement will probably kiss and make up, as the Reform and Progressive Conservative parties eventually did in Canada. That reconciliation took the best part of 15 years, with Reform very much in the driving seat. In Britain, it could take at least as long, and it would almost certainly take a Labour Government to convince members of the two right-of-centre parties that they have more in common than otherwise. (UKIP appeals to some Labour voters, but its personnel are mostly conservatives – as is its programme, such as this is.) However, the Canadian parallel breaks down in one respect. Britain’s Conservatives are not going to go down to two seats, as the Progressive Conservatives did in 1993. The most likely form of union would see the bigger party absorb part of the smaller one: Nigel Farage is clearly planning for such an outcome.
In the meantime, talk of a Conservative-UKIP pact is not worth the dust which the rude wind throws in one’s face. As matters stand, most Tory Party members don’t want one. Nor, I suspect, do most UKIP activists. Many have left the Tories, and their situation is rather like of a spouse who has left his partner under acrimonious circumstances: the last thing he wants to do is sit down and plan to live under the same roof again, perhaps with a view to re-marriage. But even were such a pact desirable for either Party (and from a Conservative point of view it clearly isn’t), it is completely impractical. It is patronising and insulting to Tory and UKIP voters alike to assume that they can simply be herded from one voting column to another, like so many sheep.
The strength of Toby Young’s Vote Exchange scheme for local Tory-UKIP pacts is that it recognises this problem. Toby wants to harness the power of the net to create “a vote-swapping facility so Kippers in the Tory target seats can ‘swap’ votes with Conservatives in the UKIP targets. We’ll create a forum,” (he wrote yesterday) “where Kippers and Tories resident in these constituencies can link up and agree to vote tactically for each other’s party”. I wish him luck with that one. UKIP members are active on the net, at least in comment sections “below the line”. Conservative ones, at present, are not – either on this site or anywhere else, and that this is so should be a wake-up call for CCHQ. And when the two meet, there isn’t much sign of a meeting of minds, to put it mildly.
But let’s suppose that I’m wrong, and such a dialogue takes place. What conclusions might it reach? At the last election, Conservative candidates beat UKIP ones in every seat. It would follow that members of Toby’s online forum should agree to vote Tory in every constituency. To which claim, UKIP supporters might reply that their party’s candidates have since beaten the Tory ones in the Eastleigh, Barnsley Central, Rotherham and Middlesbrough by-elections. By-election results are not necessarily a reliable guide to the general elections that follow, but let’s be generous to the UKIP side of the argument. That would justify recommending a UKIP vote in four out of 650 seats.
UKIP members might shift the ground again, and point to the constituencies in which it took the lead in votes during last May’s local elections. That would apparently take in Aylesbury, Bognor Regis & Littlehampton, Boston & Skegness, Camborne & Redruth, Forest of Dean, Great Yarmouth, North Thanet, South Thanet, and Worthing East & Shoreham. This would boost UKIP’s score to 15 recommendations out of 650 constituencies – and, again, local government elections are an unreliable guide to general election results. I think that the only sensible conclusion to draw in every seat would be to recommend that UKIP supporters vote Conservative – but then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Even if I’m wrong, though, any rational consensus in Toby’s forum would be for centre-right voters to back the Tories in the 40/40 seats that could decide the contest. He calls his initiative County Before Party. Another name for it might be Tories Before UKIP.