The most common objection to a CON-UKIP pact is that neither David Cameron nor Nigel Farage will touch it. So why waste time discussing it?
This was driven home by a YouGov poll last month which found that a formal electoral pact between the two parties would benefit Labour more than the Conservatives or UKIP, with Labour’s share of the vote increasing from 40 to 45 per cent as angry Conservative and UKIP voters deserted both parties. Apart, the two parties polled a combined total of 44 per cent; together, they could only muster 35 per cent. It’s clear that if either leader endorses a full-blown pact they will alienate significant numbers of their own supporters.
But a pact doesn’t need to be endorsed by the leaders of either party. What about a pact between the supporters? What I have in mind is a tactical voting alliance – a unite-the-right website that tells supporters of both parties which candidate is best-placed to win in their constituency, whether UKIP or Conservative. That wouldn’t be the sort of top-down arrangement that YouGov discovered would put off supporters of both parties. It would be a bottom-up initiative, with no formal party involvement. And it could have a significant impact on the next general election.
Take Eastleigh, for instance, a seat currently held by the Lib Dems. UKIP came second at the February by-election, so the advice on the website would be to vote for Diane James in Eastleigh because she’s the candidate best placed to defeat the incumbent. It wouldn’t need every Conservative voter in Eastleigh to follow this advice in order to oust Mike Thornton. Just a small percentage might be enough. And, of course, Conservative candidates would gain if UKIP supporters follow the website’s advice in constituencies where the Tories are best-placed to win. As Lord Ashcroft pointed out last month, Conservative MPs are currently on course to lose their seats in at least 32 CON/LAB marginals thanks to the surge in UKIP support. If some of these UKIPpers could be persuaded to vote tactically, those seats might not fall to Labour.
Sceptics will say the Eastleigh example is misleading. In the majority of constituencies, the advice will be to vote Conservative, either because there’s a sitting Tory MP or because the Conservatives came second in that seat in 2010. Why should UKIP supporters enter into any sort of tactical voting alliance with Conservatives when the quid pro quo will be so one-sided?
The first thing to say is that the arrangement won’t be as asymmetrical as some UKIP voters think. The website wouldn’t just base its recommendations of who to vote for in 2015 on the 2010 election result. The aim will be to predict as accurately as possible which of the two parties’ candidates has the best chance of winning in each constituency and, to do that, it will need to take other factors into account, such as the results of by-elections, local elections and the European election. That will mean there’ll be numerous constituencies in which Conservative supporters are advised to vote UKIP in 2015. At present, the constituencies of Eastleigh, South Shields and Rotherham all fall into this column, to name just three; many more would after the European election.
Who will decide which candidate the website endorses? I like the idea of a Unite the Right committee made up of equal numbers from each party. Yes, there will be arguments, but in most cases it will be pretty clear which candidate is best placed to win the seat. Where the committee can’t agree, the seat will just be declared “Too close to call.”
Okay, say plenty of Ukip supporters. Maybe such an arrangement would increase the chances of some UKIP MPs being elected in 2015. But the other impact of tactical voting would be to increase the chances of the Tories winning an overall majority. That is, of seeing David Cameron remain in Downing Street. And that’s the last thing they want. What I’ve failed to grasp, they say, is that the vast majority of UKIP supporters have no more time for Cameron than they do for Miliband or Clegg. Indeed, many of them would prefer to see Ed Miliband in Downing Street after the next election than Cameron. At least Miliband makes no bones about being a social democrat. And after five years of a Miliband-led Labour government, who knows, people might be willing to elect a UKIP majority government.
There’s a simple rebuttal to this argument: EU referendum. At present, our best hope of an EU referendum is if the Conservatives win an overall majority or if they’re in coalition with UKIP. Tactical voting along the lines I’m suggesting makes both of those outcomes more likely. If Ed Miliband wins an overall majority, by contrast, or if we end up with a Lib-Lab coalition, there won’t be a referendum. Is the hatred of UKIP supporters for David Cameron really so great that they’d prefer to sacrifice what may well be our last chance to extract ourselves from a United States of Europe rather than see him get re-elected? (As for the argument that “cast iron” Dave would renege on the referendum promise, don’t you believe it. If he did, he’d tear his party apart, as Adrian Hilton convincingly argues here.)
There’s a longer argument to be made, too, which has to do with all the other things we agree about. Supporters of both parties believe in low taxes, controlled immigration, freedom of speech, school choice, a welfare cap… the list goes on. The things we disagree about, by contrast, are fairly trivial in the grand scheme of things – what Sigmund Freud called “the narcissism of small differences”. Okay, it’s unrealistic to think the leaders of either party will put aside their narcissistic attachment to these differences, but the parties’ supporters?
The LibLabCon rhetoric belies the fact that we’re all, essentially, members of the same family. We’re all conservatives with a small “c”, even those UKIP supporters who voted Labour in the past. Whatever your feelings about the present leader of the Conservative Party, surely a Cameron-led government, committed to an in-out referendum, would be preferable to a Miliband-led government, committed to price fixing and land confiscation and God knows what else? And make no mistake – that’s what we’ll get if we can’t put our differences aside and unite the right.
I’m not asking supporters of either party to betray their principles. Rather, I’m inviting them to come together in the national interest. Think about what Britain would look like after five years of Ed Miliband. The economy in the toilet, immigration out of control and the last remnants of national sovereignty transferred to Brussels. The Great Britain you know and love would be gone, replaced by a politically correct dystopia in which no dissent from left-wing groupthink is tolerated. Will the last person to leave the country please turn out the Ecozone, energy-saving Biobulb?
Obviously, some UKIPpers will stick to their guns, as will some Conservatives. In all likelihood, most will. But if only a few of us are prepared to do vote tactically, it will still have an impact. As Tim Montgomerie reminded us in the Times a couple of weeks ago (££), Neil Kinnock came very close to denying the Tories a majority in 1992. “If only 11 Conservative candidates had together received 2,473 fewer votes in total they wouldn’t have been elected and John Major might not have been Prime minister,” he wrote.
If a Miliband-led socialist government doesn’t appeal to you, join me in trying to heal the rift among conservatives. Help me set up a tactical voting website. Become a member of the joint Conservative-UKIP committee. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, including your constituency in the subject line, and let’s unite the right. I’m looking for website designers, psephologists and tactical voting experts. I’m looking for disillusioned Conservatives for whom stopping Miliband is more important than giving Cameron a bloody nose. I’m looking for eurosceptics who recognise that if Labour wins the next election our last chance of an in-out EU referendum may vanish into the ether.
Above all, I’m looking for conservative-minded voters who love their country and are willing to heal the rift between us before Britain is permanently enslaved by a socialist European superstate.
We hang together or we hang separately.
Unite the right.