UKIP may change policies and dump personnel faster than Usain Bolt sprinting for the finishing line, but on one point Nigel Farage has been consistent: there will be no deal with David Cameron after the next election. There is a logic to this position from his party’s point of view. To date, UKIP has been winning more support from former Conservative voters than from those of any other party. This is in keeping with the party’s make up and nature. When all is said and done, UKIP is a democratic party of the hard right. Farage himself is a former Tory member, and himself a conservative – like many of his party’s activists. Its biggest presence on councils is in blue shire counties: Kent, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, West Sussex.
One of UKIP’s main pitches has been to disillusioned Conservatives of a certain age – over immigration, same-sex marriage, wind farms and overseas aid. This has helped to bump up the party’s poll ratings and boost Farage’s wider strategy. He grasps that there is no future for UKIP in Britain as a permanent party of protest, even were its vote share to soar to 20 per cent or so – since under first-past-the-post, that’s not enough to win seats at Westminster. His goal has been the Ribbentrop-Molotov one of peeling off enough votes from the Conservatives to dump David Cameron out of Downing Street, put Ed Miliband in, and then squeeze a new realignment of the right out of the demoralised Tories in which he himself plays a major part, and into which UKIP can be amalgamated.
I write in the past tense because, this morning, this well-established plan has been thrown into doubt at the least and torn into shreds at most. He has told the Sun that he is willing to keep Cameron in Downing Street in order to get that In-Out EU referendum. “If David Cameron came to me and said ‘Nigel, could you help me to form a government so we can have a referendum?’, of course I’d do it,” he said. “Would I put the interests of the country above the interests of UKIP? Of course I would.” The paper rightly thinks that there is more to these words than meets the eye, and argues that Farage is aiming to neutralise the Conservative “Vote UKIP, get Labour” message – for were the party to keep the Prime Minister in office, it would be a case of “Vote UKIP, get Cameron”.
To describe this change as a U-turn would be a bit of an understatement, and though the Sun’s interpretation is doubtless correct the move is deeply puzzling, for three main reasons. First, as Lord Ashcroft has argued on this site, the “Vote UKIP, get Labour” argument has not proved particularly effective to date, since many of the party’s supporters don’t care whether their votes help to put Ed Miliband in Number Ten. So why should Farage be spooked by the gambit? Second, the move is a disincentive for Liberal Democrat and, in particular, Labour waverers to vote UKIP. Why should the latter help to keep “Posh Boy Cameron” in Downing Street by backing Farage’s party? The timing of Farage’s words is all the more odd given UKIP’s push for Labour votes in next week’s elections.
And finally, the suggestion that UKIP might prop up Cameron in Downing Street collapses Farage’s strategic plan. This has been predicated on the presumption that UKIP would never put its trust in the man some of its less excitable supporters label Cast Iron Dave – that fraud, that sellout, that agent of Brussels, that catspaw of the EUSSR, that deceiver of the sheeple, that pawn of Common Purpose, that shape-shifting lizard, that very worst feature of the LibLabCon. They might well ask: if UKIP is going to keep Cameron in Downing Street, what on earth is the point of it? Perhaps Farage has some cunning plan that I am missing. Or perhaps he was paying his words even less attention than he does to the contents of UKIP manifestos. Maybe we will have a “clarification” by mid-day.