UKIP has a strategic choice. It can either go for the short-term option (which is to force an early EU referendum, watch the Conservatives divide, and seek in the plebiscite’s wake to re-form the Right) or for the longer one (which is to dig in at this election as the main rival force in Labour’s heartland seats, and seek to win the bulk of them in 2020). Up to a point, it can keep picking votes off both parties, as it is doing at present. But sooner or later, it has to choose if it is to make a big breakthrough.
Nigel Farage has recently given his party a decisive tilt in the former direction, advising voters to support the Conservatives where UKIP can’t win (which is rather a lot of places). This may be an attempt to destabilise the Tories by re-raising the suggestion of local constituency pacts, a reflection of his own preferences (since he is essentially a Hard Right conservative), a recognition of his electoral needs in Thanet, a ploy to hang on to voters who have defected from the Conservatives – or all four.
At any rate, the UKIP leader continues down the same road in the Daily Telegraph this morning, letting it be known that he will seek to open “back channel” discussions with Downing Street before May 7. He also joins the coalition that wants a Tory Government to spend at least two per cent of GDP on defence, which consists of some former Defence Ministers, many Conservative backbenchers, the U.S Government, Marcus Roberts of the Fabians, and this site.
Farage’s Telegraph piece arguing for the two per cent commitment, placed in the newspaper most read by Tory members, is part of his opening bid to David Cameron – announced with a fanfare on the day of UKIP’s manifesto launch. If the Commons is hung after May 7, it is possible to see a Conservative/Liberal Democrat/UKIP arrangement, perhaps with the DUP on board too, lined up against a Labour/SNP/Green/Respect one (though Nick Clegg’s party could go either way, or none).
These groups of parties would not be formal Coalitions; nor would the smaller parties necessarily be bound to a larger one by Confidence and Supply. They would, rather, let the main business of the bigger party go through – on conditions. The prospect of Alex Salmond, Caroline Lucas and George Galloway being the tail that wags the Miliband dog is alarming. Some Conservatives will feel the same about Farage.
Some, indeed – but not all or even most, at least according to this site’s most recent monthly survey. Four in five Party members were opposed to a pre-election pact with UKIP when last asked, but over two in three are willing to countenance a Confidence and Supply deal. In the last resort, Cameron can’t stop UKIP MPs not bringing down a Tory Government, just as Miliband can’t stop the SNP keeping a Labour one in place.
I write “UKIP MPs”, but it isn’t at all clear how many there will be. There could be ten or more. Or there could just be Douglas Carswell – or a number somewhere in between, with or without Nigel Farage. The many hues and shades of UKIP could be on display, as described by Mark Wallace on this site: Blue UKIP, Grey UKIP, Red UKIP, People’s Army UKIP, and Carswell – Mr Bright Purple UKIP himself, who is not a believer in whips and whipping. In a tight Parliament, this could get interesting.
party members’ views