Today’s Tory Diary holds out hope for a future reconciliation with Ukip in the wake of Ken Clarke’s overhyped attack on its candidates and voters and Boris Johnson’s typically optimistic assessment of the purple surge.
Andrew Gimson interprets Boris’s words as signifying that Ukip is ‘the lost Tory tribe, and one day, in an inspirational outpouring of harmony and brotherhood, it will be reunited with the Conservative Party, which will be so invigorated by this reunion that it will dominate British politics for many years to come’.
I have to say, I don’t share his enthusiasm. This may have been possible a few years ago, before Ukip became a serious player in British politics and was actually a sort of unofficial Tory pressure group, but its character has irreversibly changed since that time.
As Nigel Farage is keen to point out these days, his party siphons votes from all main parties now, not just the Conservatives. Its strategists have realised in the last 12-18 months that their fortunes lie in pandering to the socially conservative Labour vote – those who believe in economic socialism but are against political correctness and liberalism – and the protest vote previously held by the Liberal Democrats.
Frankly, the Conservatives are better off without these people, and the hypothetical possibility of a merger – about as likely as Herman Van Rompuy calling for the abolition of the euro – is something to be avoided. Even if it were to one day look more likely – after say an electoral pact à la Hannan or an EU referendum in 2017 – Ukip’s policies and base of support will have drifted even further from its beginnings as a eurosceptic, libertarian-lite offshoot of the Conservative party.
I suppose Gimson is probably thinking about the Canadian Reform party and the Progressive Conservatives when he dreams of a reunited Conservative party. Reform was founded in 1987 and was a western Canadian movement, much more economically liberal and socially conservative than its mother party, which it had completely pushed out of the prairie provinces by the end of the 1993 federal election.
By that time, the PCs were finished, reduced to fifth place and with only two seats in the House of Commons – a far cry from their 21-seat majority in 1988. By 2003, the now broke PCs agreed to merge with Reform to form the modern Conservative party of Canada. These newly reformed Tories are now being tipped to dominate the 21st century in the same way the Liberals dominated the 20th.
But this isn’t Canada, Cameron’s Tories aren’t the PCs and Ukip most definitely isn’t Reform. Reform sharpened the prevailing trend of Anglosphere conservatism since the 1970s – free market economics and social conservatism – which the PCs had strayed from in their quest to emulate the hegemony of the Liberal party.
Ukip is a whole other kettle of fish and something not seen in this country for generations. It is a populist party – light on policy and without solid philosophical foundations but always ‘with the people against the elites’. Ironically, given the party’s founding raison d’être, this is actually more of European political movement, generally considered alien to British politics but, if the shoe fits…