Matthew Parris

Matthew Parris: The Tories mustn't cuddle up to Ukip — just imagine if it happened on the left

5 October 2013

9:00 AM

5 October 2013

9:00 AM

Such is my respect for Spectator readers that I offer you a column whose subtext is in Latin. Ours is one of the last mainstream magazines among whose readership the phrase mutatis mutandis will be very widely understood.

But the little test you and I are going to try concerns a live issue, not a dead language. For the purposes of this test I am going to paint you a scenario, and you’re going to give me the broad thrust of the advice you’d give in such circumstances.

Imagine that the Labour party has been trying for some time to position itself firmly on the centre ground. The strategy (you may remember it from the days of Tony Blair) is to break out of the party’s ‘core’ support, and attract enough floating voters — those people who can imagine themselves voting Labour but might in other circumstances vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat — to nudge its poll ratings towards the 40 per cent mark necessary to gain an overall majority.

The repositioning had been going reasonably well. But Labour strategists have now encountered a problem. All their centrist talk has produced a backlash from ‘old’ Labour and the left. Particularly unsettled have been the trade unions. A ragbag of renegades, led by a colourful, Ken Livingstone-like figure and united by the belief that Labour has lost sight of its proletarian principles, have formed a party of their own. They’ve called it Socialist Action for Real Democracy, or Sard — its supporters being dubbed Sardines. The Sard poll ratings struggle to approach two figures but the party’s message is simple and chippy. Sard’s appeal to a minority who want to punish Labour for betraying their traditional values brings it (some argue) within sniffing distance of cheating Labour of victory in a swath of the party’s marginal seats. The Sardines threaten to spoil Labour’s hopes of winning.

Argument is joined. Some Labour voices, while remaining loyal, proclaim the need for Labour to do a deal nationally with the Sardines: perhaps an electoral pact. Others suggest ‘local’ deals in which Labour candidates prepared to sign up to some of Sard’s key demands are given a free run in their constituencies. The New Statesman has just run a whole issue — ‘Why cleft the left?’ — devoted to the case for Labour’s trying to answer the anxieties of the old left, accommodate some of its aims, trim ‘new’ Labour’s centrist tendencies, and reach out sympathetically to what some have called Labour’s Sardine ‘cousins’. The magazine’s contributors are wary of direct dealings with the Sardine leadership, and instead recommend a ‘bottom-up’ appeal to the kind of old left voters that Sard seem to be hauling in.

The New Statesman voices advocating this approach are themselves to the left of Labour’s leadership. Some are borderline Sardines themselves. Some would make any excuse to import parts of the Sard manifesto into official Labour policy. But they have convinced themselves they are proposing this leftward lurch not as a way of pursuing their own ideological agenda, but in the broader electoral interests of the Labour party.

Now, reader, give me in note form the gist of the advice you’d offer Labour: your answer to the question ‘Should Labour stick to its centrist guns — or cast its net on the other side, the port side, in an attempt to net some Sardines?’ Surely you’ll almost all give me the same response? Something like this:

Labour would be crazy to lurch leftward to pick up lost voters — huge implications for appeal to centre ground — for every disaffected voter ‘floating’ away to left, dozens of more centrist voters who’d then float away to right — millions antagonised by sight of party cuddling up to a fringe party branded as extremist — ‘Labour Sups with Sardines’ would be big media story — headlines about party returning to bad old days — Tories will start calling it the Sard-Labour alliance — no, message to Labour must be ‘Keep your heads, stick to your centre-party strategy’ — that’s where the votes are.

Have some of my Spectator colleagues gone crazy? There’s a huge hole in the argument for cuddling up to Ukip in order to win back its supporters. The hole is so obvious I hesitate even to rehearse it before a readership which must be presumed to be of sound mind, but it’s this: Ukippers are an identifiable group and a noisy and colourful one, but even at the highest estimate are less than 10 per cent of the electorate. Potentially much larger, however, but amorphous because they don’t self-identify and don’t strongly support any party, are the millions who might vote Conservative, might vote Liberal Democrat, might vote Labour, or might just stay at home. Every general election the Conservative party or the Labour party have ever lost, they have lost because enough of these voters have floated away; every election either party has ever won has been won by winning over enough of them.

By definition this group is unable to make demands, offer pacts or bang its drum in the media, but through polling we do know a bit about what worries it about the Tories: that they appear ‘uncaring’, that they are ‘too ideological’ or ‘right-wing’; and we know that women are more likely than men to harbour such doubts. It is perfectly true that some of the positions that some of these voters may take on issues like immigration, crime and punishment, or the EU, are positions that Ukip take, too; but if the Conservative party lurches into Kipper-talk then it will simply not be believed, because it is a party of government and in their hearts the voters understand that responsible government cannot wave a wand and do all the things that the rest of us like to let off steam about. In the eyes even of voters who espouse kipperish positions on policy, the Tories would look ridiculous pretending to be Kippers.

Remind yourself, then, of the reasons Labour would be crazy to lurch left to pick up more of the ‘old’ Labour vote, and ask yourself why this reasoning does not apply to the Tories, and a lurch to the right. Mutatis mutandis, that is.

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Show comments
  • rhys

    Molto divertente, I’m sure : especially if you’re a bien pensant member of the British Nomenklatura who has three ( that we know of ) very expensive houses and is so rich that he need never again worry about paying an electric bill. (Or a bill at The Ivy; or any bill.)

    Now try it on as a fifty-something bricklayer who has never claimed a single benefit ( other than once-free dental treatment ) ; has worked in all weathers for nearly forty years and has now been obliged to reduce his daily rate from £150 to £100 ( meaning inter alia that he cannot put anything by for a pension ) in an attempt to compete with persons here by virtue of uncontrolled and unprecedented levels of immigration from countries where £100 a day ( especially when supplemented by child and other benefits ) represents serious wealth.

    Not so funny after all is it?

    • trackeddown

      Those attempting to turn back the tide of globalisation do us no good as a nation.

      It doesn’t help equip our workforce (already exhibiting lower levels of productivity than our competitors, and already handicapped by shortage of work ethic and unrealistic expectations of too many young people) to compete in what is now a global job market by protecting them, and shielding them from the harsh winds of competition.

      It doesn’t help British business compete on the world stage by forcing them to employ a lower quality, less productive workforce just because they happen to have been born here.

      And it hardly helps Britain’s economy, and British consumers, to ‘lock in’ higher costs for goods and services just because we’re not prepared to allow those from outside to offer goods and services at lower process.

      • Brimstone52

        Globalisation only helps those who can operate across the globe. It doesn’t help the brickie who is having to cut his rates to feed his family.

  • rhys

    PS: then again – perhaps it is funny if you need work doing on one of your three houses ?
    Or regularly enjoy cheaper meals in London restaurants by virtue of all the foreign staff on slave-labour wages.

  • smithers25

    None of the three main party’s give a toss about the ordinary British voter, they are more concerned in jumping through hoops to appeal to ethnic minorities pandering to their every cultural and social demands no matter how invented they might be.
    Most Muslims for example are likely to support Labour (just when are all those cases of voter fraud from the last election going to be brought to court?) until such time as they number enough to form their own party, say 2023 when they will issue a Fatwa on anyone voting for Labour Lib/Dem or Tory. Implantation of Sharia law will be their main policy. Worried sick by this Sikhs and Hindus will likewise form their own party’s based on their culture and religion.
    Wither the desperate ignored British voter; could always vote Catholic!

    • Icebow

      I am mystified, Smithers, as to how you manage minorities perfectly well, along with other possessives, while committing ‘party’s’ twice. Mr Burns is also puzzled. I did vote you up, though.

  • Duncan Richardson

    Cuddle up to UKIP? It takes two to tango. We remember which party sold us down the river in 1972

  • cremaster


    During the LIbLabCon Conference, it was thrilling to see the pictures of CamOron in an immaculate suit, with clean hands, holding a loaf, claiming to have just baked it himself. Apparently he does this all the time! (Bakes it, I mean. Not posing with it).

    Hold that image for a moment. What do you think that tells you about the attitude of the Westmister elite towards the electorate? What do you think it says about the “journalists” who relay the message? What, of the lobbyists who now pack the conference in place of party members?

    It means that the political elite see you as cattle, to be goaded (sorry, “nudged”) and worked and taxed as the all-mighty State sees fit. It means you are seen as a mentally subnormal mass who can be sold any lie, no matter how big. You can vote for any party you like, as long as it’s LibLabCon!

    Mr Parris holds out the hope of a party you can vote for with growing membership! Can he possibly mean the “Conservative” party? How can that be, when they haemorrhage supporters every day?

    V O T E U K I P.

  • country_exile

    As a former member of the political class Mr Parris confuses the interests of the Conservative Party with the national interest.

    If UKIP has any purpose it is not the winning of power but depriving the Conservative Party of it. It is my sincere hope that UKIP destroys the Tory Party and consigns it to oblivion. Only then will we have the chance of a new, genuinely right of centre party that may – I stress may – take the necessary steps to save our country.

    Labour, Liberal, Tory – it really doesn’t matter, not any more. The issues are too big and the politicians don’t understand them. The UK’s only hope of salvation is turning ourselves into a larger version of Singapore.

    • cremaster

      “The issues are too big”
      …and the politicians too small.

    • NotYouNotSure

      Agree with this. Politicians like Mr Parris care only for power, when the time comes for elections, people like him hold their noses and beg for our votes, when the disgusting deed is done they go back to their usual disdain for us. I could not care less if the Tory party never held power until the end of time, I would prefer if they were an opposition party that represented the people who voted for them, over them being in power and being essentially the Labour/Lib party.

  • Martin Jennerson

    The assumption underlying this piece is that UKIP’s ideas are extreme and are unlikely to appeal to the general public in sufficient numbers. The political class uses political correctness and shaming smears by association rather than any reasoned argument whatsoever to try to push out UKIP. Doesn’t that indicate that, without these attempts to stigmatise, UKIP’s ideas might demolish the Labour Party’s (let’s not pretend that the Tories really ever challenge those ideas, other than very slightly on Welfare occasionally).

  • terence patrick hewett

    Matthew: the recurring theme from UKIP supporters on these sort of threads is the overwhelming desire to destroy the Conservative Party because to use current phraseology; it is “no longer fit for purpose.” They have only one seat in Scotland where previously they had 50% of the seats. They have little support in the north of England and in the south UKIP is eating into their support. You politicals don’t understand UKIP: Phillip Collins in the Times today typifies the misapprehension when he describes Farage’s progress as his “cheerful march back (sic) into the past.” We look at Germany and see what they have achieved when technology, politics and labour all pull together: then we look at our political set-up and reach for the sick-bag. We see that vested interests of both the left and the right have taken over the shop: and it is we that have to pay the price. We want to destroy the whole rotten lot of you: some rubbish Oxbridge degree in PPE or the humanities is no longer good enough to run a modern state. The Tory Party is in terminal decline: the only big thinker with the imagination to possibly pull it round is Boris. But UKIP are going to do you a favour: we are going to de-fenestrate Cameron since the Tories haven’t got the guts to do it

    • RobertC

      It is not just in Westminster that PPE or the humanities graduates live in a fantasy world. I am not suggesting that Engineers, Scientists and people from other disciplines, have all the answers, but they should be able to point out some of the problems that might be encountered. So much policy is not feasible! Look at our energy policy, our transportation policy or how government destroys any incentive to keep families together, apart from the gays!

      A few years ago, at the time of one of the big rail crashes that hit the headlines, with at least several deaths, it was pointed out that Railtrack had no Engineers on the board. There were lawyers, Finance, Marketing, HR and Advertising execs and yet more lawyers, but no Engineers!

      I think one of the lawyers knew which end of a screwdriver to hold, so what was the problem?

    • Brimstone52

      “we are going to de-fenestrate Cameron since the Tories haven’t got the guts to do it”

      Does that mean that someone is going to punch his lights out?

  • Rockin Ron

    Like a lot of Mr Parris’ articles, this is full of not-even-half-baked assumptions. It must be awful to be Matthew Parris – wet, woolly, ineffective, vague and unable to analyse current affairs. No wonder he is one of Gove’s favourites.

    For example, Parris says of UKIP supporters that they are ‘less than 10 per cent of the electorate.’ Evidence? None. Interestingly, it could be argued that gays are less than 10% of the electorate, but that has not stopped them from having a disproportionate effect on Government policy over the last decade.

    A quick tip, Matthew. Try to do some research before you give us the benefit of your ignorance.

    You may have had a point if you had said that it is not the % of the electorate who support any party that matters so much as their spread across constituencies. The General Election will be decided in a small number, perhaps 60, of seats and what counts is maximising the support out in those seats. The LIb Dems have years of experience in targeting marginals and UKIP will have to learn to do the same.

    • Smithersjones2013

      wet, woolly, ineffective, vague and unable to analyse current affairs

      Isn’t that the very definition of the Cameroon ‘modernisers’ [sic]

  • Smithersjones2013

    This article explains why the Tories will be crushed at the next election. Their self-deluding assessment of the political landscape is so deranged it only augers destruction

    In 2010 the Conservatives polled 23% of the total electorate

    In 2010 the Conservatives and Labour polled 42% of the electorate

    In 2010 the Three establishment parties polled 57% of the electorate

    Since 1992 the Conservatives have not polled more than 23% of the electorate

    Since 1997 the Conservatives and Labour have not exceeded 43% of the electorate

    Since 1992 the Three establishment parties have not exceeded polling 66% of the electorate and since 1997 have not polled in excess of 57% of the election.

    Polling suggests 42% of the electorate will not even consider voting Tory

    In the last 4 general elections over one third of the electorate have not been seduced by the offerings of ‘LibLabCon’ yet Parris and Cameron somehow believe they are going to role back the years and put on the mantel of Maggie’s legacy:

    Have some of my Spectator colleagues gone crazy? There’s a huge
    hole in the argument for cuddling up to Ukip in order to win back its
    supporters. The hole is so obvious I hesitate even to rehearse it before
    a readership which must be presumed to be of sound mind, but it’s this:
    Ukippers are an identifiable group and a noisy and colourful one, but
    even at the highest estimate are less than 10 per cent of the
    electorate. Potentially much larger, however, but amorphous because they
    don’t self-identify and don’t strongly support any party, are the
    millions who might vote Conservative, might vote Liberal Democrat, might
    vote Labour, or might just stay at home.

    To go chasing voters who have not voted for the Tories or at all in decades is tantamount to chasing unicorns.

    Put another way Thatcher sustained her traditional support and maintained a national vote of 13 million plus increasing it to 13.75 million in 1987 and leaving a legacy of over 14 million for John Major. Blair won 13 million votes and then preceeded to desert traditional grounds and supporters (Clause IV refers). Blair lost 4 million votes in 8 years with Brown losing another million as his legacy.

    Cameron has been obsessed with deserting his traditional grounds to the extent that he has split the right and allowed UKIP to take over those lands. Meanwhile Cameron has moved lock stock and barrel to the centreground.

    The lesson in all this is you can’t win an election from the left right or centre. You can only win an election by occupying the centre from your traditional grounds. Only Margaret Thatcher and her government seem to have been successful in repeating that art of political positioning in election after election in the modern era. Cameron couldn’t even do it the first time around.

    Cameron has stranded himself in the ideologically free no man’s land of politics with the rest of the worthless power hungry managerial bureaucratic types. He turns left he loses votes to the right. He turns right he loses votes to the left. He does nothing his vote withers out of sheer vacuousness and irrelevence.

    I suspect that the main reason why so many Cameroon doormats are now chuntering on about chasing the ‘unicorn’ vote rather than chasing the UKIP vote is that they have finally realised that many UKIP supporters despise them as much as Labour supporters do. Cameron could not have positioned his party in a more vulnerable or worse position, This Tory party is the most politically inept in decades. Else why would they turn their nose up at a vote share that equates to almost half their current share (in total electorate terms)?

    The only questions left is exactly how many votes he will lose and whether the collective vote of the three establishment parties will slip below 50% for the first time indicating that the ‘post war consensus’ has been shattered?

  • Rallan

    This trite, condescending article draws a false parallel. At the same time it neatly demonstrates the blatant contempt for public engagement by the political elite that is driving UKIPs rise.

    The Parris/Establishment argument goes that the 2015 election will be a choice between Ed or Dave. Maybe. But in truth, no-one actually wants either Ed or Dave. They are both thoroughly uninspiring leaders who don’t offer confidence or hope. They rely on tribal “vote for Us or get Them” blackmail, rather than trying to gather public support. They’ve got nothing else. They’re useless.

    So UKIP isn’t a Judean Peoples Front of the right. It is a party filling the vacuum of integrity and democracy left by all of the established parties. If UKIP didn’t already exist, the British (well, English) people would invent it. They increasingly see that the traditional parties are not interested in representing or including them whatsoever. Furthermore, Westminster politicians have proven themselves to be untrustworthy and incompetent hypocrites.

    So in 2015 I’ll vote UKIP with a song in my heart, along with millions of others. And to hell with you, Mr Parris.

    • Smithersjones2013

      Maybe. But in truth, no-one actually wants either Ed or Dave.

      In every election in the 21st century the majority of the electorate (over 25 million out of c45 million) have not voted for either Labour or Conservative parties. Its possible less than 4 in 10 will vote for them in 2015.

      • Rallan

        Yes, there is a real prospect that the legitimacy of the next government will be questionable. And in response to this longstanding lack of public faith, with an continuing national crisis and at a time when politicians have lost credibility, the two traditional parties offer us with the best leadership they’ve got; David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

        Seriously, what does that tell us about Labour and the Conservatives?

    • Philip Meikle

      Agree 100% Rallan, people “in politics” seem to feel that there are only 2 “real” options like in the USA. This article is a case in point! However British politics is still able to reflect the people when the people are actually shaken out of pre-conceptions and historical voting as is happening now.

      The next election will be interesting I hope!

      And likewise I will be crossing next to UKIP at chance I get!

  • RobertC

    What is the Centreground?

    Do you want the State to decrease in size, with lower taxes for everyone, the removal of tax credits (so employers are not subsidised), less red tape so more people can get on with their lives, the Government allowed to govern by giving them responsibility, so they don’t have to refer everything to Brussels?

    And do you want Social Services to stop costing an arm and a leg and children’s lives and performing early morning raids on middle class families as though they were international terrorists. Do you want the Police ‘Service’ to do something POSITIVE about the cries of groomed young girls?

    That is Centreground, and the LibLabCon Party are not offering it to the electorate.


  • Michael O’Shea

    I am glad that Matthew Parris knows the meaning of mutatis mutandis, but I suspect that his knowledge of electoral arithmetic is deficient compared to that of most Spectator readers. His comparison is spurious, for the following obvious reason. There are lots of people, many currently expressing a preference for UKIP, many traditional Labour voters, who would be more likely to vote Conservative if they were confident that the Conservatives would pursue “right-wing” (not really right-wing in my opinion) policies on e.g. Europe, immigration, benefits and public expenditure. There is hardly anyone who would be more likely to vote Labour if the Labour Party espoused more left-wing policies. The elder Miliband knew this and his younger brother will, I trust, soon learn it.

  • UKIP Chapel & Hope

    Actually in elections UKIP often attracts 25% plus and in recent by-elections has outperformed the Tories. UKIPs trajectory is up and the Tories is down. Parris is right: Cuddling up to Ukip is not the answer but there is no other answer because Cameron is hated in the North too. It is too early to write him off but a Cameron defeat and an implosion of his party following 5 election defeats in a row looks increasingly likely.