By Tim Montgomerie
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The boundary reform is dead. That means, according to some estimates, that the winning post at the next election has got about twenty seats further away. Despite frantic attempts by the Tory leadership to salvage the boundary review it seems very unlikely that it'll proceed. Tory MP Michael Fabricant has, however, suggested another way of winning twenty or more seats. He suggests a pact with UKIP. The Conservatives offer an In/Out referendum, he says, and UKIP agrees not to fight the general election.
Mr Fabricant sets out his thinking in a paper that you can read here.
The thrust of the argument is that UKIP do not have to win a single seat at the next election in order to inflict serious damage on Tory candidates in marginal seats. Not every UKIP voter is a lost Tory voter but many are. At the last election there were 21 seats where the Conservatives' losing margin was less than the UKIP vote. In perhaps 8 to 12 of these seats you could sensibly argue that if there hadn't been a UKIP candidate then the Tory candidate would have won given that they were the most Eurosceptic alternative choice for UKIP voters.
Since the general election a mega poll by Lord Ashcroft has shown that we are losing as many voters to UKIP as to Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined;
For Michael Fabricant the explanation is clear. "Nigel Farage," he writes, "is a former Thatcherite,
who sounds like a Conservative, who looks like a Conservative, and in other circumstances probably would be a Conservative". "The UKIP manifesto," he continues, "is overtly centre-right to right wing in its stance on all major issues".
Fresh from the Corby by-election where he was a key part of the campaign team Mr Fabricant is clear that UKIP were a significant reason for the Tory defeat. He describes the growth in UKIP support since the general election as "profound".
A pact with UKIP would certainly be popular with the Tory grassroots. A poll conducted by ConservativeHome in June found that 60% of Conservative members were positive towards the idea of such an arrangement. More popular in that survey, however, were no-strings attached promises to hold an EU referendum and to set out a concrete plan to replace the ECHR with a British Bill of Rights.
Nigel Farage has made it clear overnight that he's not interested in a UKIP/Tory deal. "No deals with the Tories; it's war," he Tweeted to all of his followers. Later, in a Tweet to Michael Fabricant, he added: "Cameron's comments over the Rotherham case mean a deal's simply not possible." Mr Farage is angry that David Cameron refused to retract his 2006 gaffe that UKIP was a party full of "fruitcakes", "loonies" and "closet racists". Nigel Farage, quoted in The Telegraph, said UKIP would abandon its pledge not to stand against Eurosceptic Tory MPs after David Cameron refused to retract those comments.
In my column for today's Times (£) I don't discuss the notion of a UKIP pact. I simply argue that David Cameron's forthcoming speech on Europe must include a bankable commitment to hold an In/Out referendum. I write:
"Anything less than an in-out vote won’t remove the dagger from the Tory throat that is known as UKIP. The Rotherham adoption row has catapulted UKIP to a new level in British politics. Both Mr Cameron and Ed Miliband have had to acknowledge that it is a mainstream party. It’s certainly more than a Eurosceptic phenomenon and there is no silver bullet to stop it dividing the centre- right vote. Nonetheless, an in-out vote is the best way of putting a lid on its rise. A strong UKIP means a divided Centre Right in British politics and that would give Labour a structural advantage not just at the next election but for the foreseeable future."
If David Cameron doesn't address Europe then the party will remain split on the issue and sections of our supporters will remain obsessed by it. If he does address the issue he has a chance of securing his base amongst centre right, Eurosceptic voters and can then focus on reaching out to floating voters who are most interested in bread and butter issues like the cost of living and the NHS.
> Yesterday's ToryDiary: Boris Johnson WAS in favour of an In/Out referendum. No longer it seems…
> Saturday's ToryDiary: If we agreed a pact with UKIP, we would own their pain – and their problems.