This is going to be the year I do my Flash Gordon routine and launch a campaign to save the universe from Ming the Merciless. By which I mean some sort of alliance between the Conservatives and Ukip to prevent Miliband becoming the next prime minister.
When I first started thinking about this, my conclusion was that any formal pact was out of the question. Not only have Cameron and Farage pooh-poohed it, but the polling evidence suggests that any gains the parties made by not fighting each other would be more than offset by their losses. Some Tory voters would be alienated by a pact, as would plenty of Kippers.
However, I now think that’s unduly pessimistic. Yes, we’re unlikely to see Cameron and Farage shaking hands on the steps of Downing Street, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for local alliances. I’m thinking of a patchwork quilt of ground-level agreements between Conservative and Ukip constituency associations rather than a national pact sanctioned by the party panjandrums.
There’s precedent for this sort of thing, at least on the Ukip side. At the last general election, local Ukip associations agreed not to oppose five Conservatives — three sitting MPs: Douglas Carswell (Clacton), Philip Davies (Shipley) and Philip Hollobone (Kettering); and two prospective parliamentary candidates: Janice Small (Batley and Spen) and Alex Story (Wakefield). It helped that all were Eurosceptics, but that’s hardly a minority view in the Tory party. It’s not out of the question that Ukip associations could be persuaded to support equally Eurosceptic Conservative candidates in other seats as well.
Now, the difficulty is that they won’t necessarily be the candidates in the Tories’ key battleground constituencies. Grant Shapps has compiled a list of the 40 most marginal and 40 most winnable Tory seats and the candidates aren’t all Eurosceptics. Ben Gummer (Ipswich), for instance, is a raging Europhiliac and we couldn’t ask any Kippers to vote for him.
So what we need to do is draw up an alternative list of Tory candidates. Some of the names on that roster could be taken from Shapps’s 40-40 campaign — James Wharton (Stockton South), for instance — while others could be taken from a longer list of target seats. The plan would be to come up with about 60 marginals in which the blue candidates are firmly in the Eurosceptic camp and then try to persuade the local Ukip activists to support them.
There are two main arguments we’ll be able to make. First, if they continue to back Ukip in these constituencies, the Labour or Lib Dem candidate will probably win and that, in turn, will mean Miliband in Downing Street and no EU referendum in the next parliament. Is that really what they got into politics for? To stop a referendum from happening?
Second, there’ll be a quid pro quo. The other part of the campaign will be to persuade Conservative activists to support purple candidates in a dozen or so seats in which the Tories don’t have a hope. Constituencies like Eastleigh, for instance, in which Ukip are better placed to unseat the Lib Dem incumbent. Conservative associations are unlikely to withdraw their candidates in these seats, but the local envelope-stuffers might switch sides, particularly if their candidate is a Europhile. And I’ll set up a vote-swapping website so Kippers in the Tory target seats can swap votes with Conservatives in the Ukip targets.
I’ve been trying to think up a good name for this campaign. The last time I ran it up the flagpole I called it ‘Unite the Right’, but that proved off-putting. Not all Kippers think of themselves as ‘right-wing’ and plenty of Conservatives find that description a bit toxic, too. The other problem with ‘Unite the Right’ is that people assume I’m campaigning for a merger between the two parties and that’s greeted with some scepticism. In fact, all I’m proposing is a one-off alliance to stop Miliband and secure a referendum in the next parliament.
So my latest idea is to call it the ‘Country before Party’ campaign. It has the virtue of appealing to people’s patriotism and if it’s successful it would be a good banner under which to campaign for an ‘out’ vote in 2017. If you’re interested in getting involved, please contact me via email@example.com. The email address is not meant to indicate a pro-Tory bias. The beneficiaries of the ‘Country before Party’ campaign will not be Ukip or the Conservatives, but the people of Britain.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.
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