Lord Ashcroft wrote yesterday on this site, while analysing his latest poll from Conservative-Labour marginals, that he is more optimistic about the Tories' chances at the next election than the survey "might at first glance give reason to be". A brief look at its findings indeed provides no cheer for David Cameron, since "Labour’s lead in these seats has grown from nine to 14 points over the
last two years, largely because of the defection of Tory voters to UKIP". Our proprietor's reasoning is that since leadership matters to voters, and David Cameron continues to lead Ed Miliband in that respect, Labour's lead in those marginals will fall as the election approaches.
This suggests that many voters who have left the Conservatives to support UKIP will return to the Tories on or before polling day. I think this view is right – though much depends on how many. I doubt that UKIP's ratings will fall from ten per cent or so to the three per cent it gained in 2010. And since that three per cent cost the Conservatives some five seats or so last time round, they will lose more in 2015 if UKIP come in on, say, five per cent. In a tight election, this could be crucial. But whatever happens, the poll highlights what has been evident for some time, as far as UKIP's strategy is concerned.
Nigel Farage could have turned UKIP, after Cameron conceded an In-Out referendum, into a party dedicated simply to obtaining a No vote in 2017. Instead, he is trying to transform it into one that campaigns on a much broader front, opposing wind farms, same-sex marriage, the non-restoration of grammar schools, war in Syria – anything likely to raise the hackles of traditional Tory voters. In short, he is trying to present UKIP as "the Conservative Party you used to vote for", as I keep putting it: Since Farage is a sharp operator, it follows that he has a reason for doing all this – one that it isn't hard to work out.
First, he aims to take votes from the Conservatives. Second – having done so – to force the Tories to treat with him on his terms. And third, to reshape the centre-right of politics, with himself in a leading role. None of this can happen if Cameron returns to Downing Street after the next election. Farage can only attain his goal if Cameron is pitched out and Ed Miliband put in. Miliband knows this perfectly well. And Farage knows that Milband knows. And Miliband knows that Farage knows that…but you get the point. The Labour UKIP-relationship is the Molotov-Rippentrop pact of our time.