After the Clacton by-election defeat the Conservative message was very specific: “Voting UKIP risks letting Ed Miliband into Downing Street.” Thus far the opinion polls suggest the warning has had limited impact – UKIP’s ratings remain bouyant with Labour still usually a point or two ahead of the Conservatives . Ed Miliband has been attacked for a “35 per cent strategy” – the notion that he regards that as enough for victory.
Yet this morning’s ComRes poll, when “prompting” for UKIP as well as the three “main” parties has Labour on 31 per cent and the Conservatives on 29 per cent. When I tap those figures into the Electoral Calculus website it tells me they translate to 321 Labour seats and 250 for the Conservatives. Labour would be just five seats short of an overall majority and Mr Miliband would certainly be in Downing Street. That’s on 31 per cent.
During a General Election campaign, with the electorate staring into the abyss, the warning that Mr Miliband could actually become our Prime Minister would surely have more traction.
However that warning is not enough. For some voters it has a petulant ring. As if they are children being reprimanded: “Now I’ve had just about enough of this nonsense. If you carry on being silly do you realise what could happen?”
Another point is that the reality is a bit more nuanced. In some seats voting UKIP might result in a sitting Labour MP being defeated.
Also they are taking some votes from Labour in Conservative seats. In Rochester and Strood, for example, if UKIP took half the vote share from the Conservatives last time and Labour held their vote share – at 28.5 per cent – then Labour would win the by-election. That would have the paradox of being rather helpful to the Conservative in getting across the warning for the General Election. But much more likely is that many Labour voters switch to UKIP. The reality remains that in many marginal seats UKIP will probably take more votes from the Conservatives than Labour and this impact could be crucial.
In any event reading the Sunday papers this morning it is apparent that the Conservative message had broadened.
Liz Truss interviewed for the Mail on Sunday accepts that subsidies for ugly solar farms have got to be phased out. Ineffective green subsidies are a particular source of fury to UKIP supporters.
In the Sunday Telegraph David Cameron stresses such policies as scrapping the Human Rights Act.
The Sunday Times has a story about a quota on EU immigration adding:
“The plans would illegal under EU law, because they violate the principle of free movement of people. But Cameron thinks he can agree a deal because he will signal that he is prepared to leave the EU if he does not achieve what he wants.”
These are messages that the Conservatives are listening to, rather than hectoring, UKIP voters. As such there will certainly be criticism about “pandering” to such a dubious group of society. But such criticisms are misguided. Not least because often the views of this group – for instance that the EU renegotiation should be tough and backed up by the threat of withdrawal – are widely shared among supported of other parties as well.