Downing Street and CCHQ hope that UKIP’s vote will fall next May to the three per cent it won in 2010 – or lower. The party itself likes to suggest that it could gain up to the 27 per cent it took during the spring’s European elections. Neither will be the case: it will come somewhere in between. Its last five national opinion poll ratings as chronicled by Anthony Wells have been 12 per cent (Populus), 18 per cent (Ashcroft), 12 per cent (YouGov), 15 per cent (Opinium) and 17 per cent (ComRes).
As I have said before, UKIP’s ratings at these levels, combined with its regular showings in European elections; its foothold in local government (the party has about 200 councillors), its push in the east of England (see the result of the last Lord Ashcroft poll of marginals in Thurrock and South Thanet) and its incursions into Labour as well as Conservative territory (see Rotherham) suggest that the party isn’t going to fold any time soon.
Yes, UKIP’s policies are a joke (insofar as they have any at all); their personnel, well, rather accident-prone – even more so than is usually the case with the members of political parties – and its whole presence mildly ridiculous. But it is one thing for me to say so, and quite another for the Tories to do so. I am a journalist and can write as I please. The Conservative Party must be rather more careful about the consequences of what it says – and does.
The so-called Tory-UKIP pact was always a no-no: not just a bad idea but, more to the point, an unworkable one. But it is none the less worth the Conservative leadership’s while to treat UKIP prudently. If Ed Miliband is Prime Minister after next May, it may want conversations about co-operation to begin with any UKIP activists willing to have them, or at least to hoover up the party’s more rational members, as the consequences of a Labour Government slowly sink in among them.
Which brings us to today’s list of new peers. The Coalition Agreement committed the two governing parties to making Lords appointments “with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election”. There are many ways of honoring that promise: a minimal one would have been to announce the creation of a single UKIP peer in today’s list.
This person could, for example, have been Jeffrey Titford, one of the Party’s first MEPs and very much a tribal elder. Or UKIP could have gone for a different place on the age and gender spectrum and plumped for Diane James, its candidate in Eastleigh. Or even, if the party could bear it, named a former Conservative, such as Roger Knapman, its former leader. But instead, it has had no opportunity to act at all – despite the words of the Coalition Agreement.
This is poor politics as well as a breach of the Agreement. Yes, a UKIP peerage would have given Nigel Farage a publicity shot in the arm. Not great for CCHQ or Number 10. But, as the latter should have learned by now, there are more important things than the short-term. There are also the medium and long-term ones, and the Tory interest in both should have meant UKIP getting the peerage that the Agreement suggests. The error should be corrected at the first opportunity.