In the last few weeks before the election, there was a carefully planned and coordinated campaign to reclaim former Conservative voters who looked likely to vote UKIP. It was successful and it determined the result of the election.
First, there was a steady campaign to suggest (wrongly) that UKIP support was declining in the polls. Then, four weeks before the election, the media publicised an alleged statement by Nigel that in places where UKIP couldn’t win, UKIP supporters should vote Conservative. Finally, the day before the election, three papers – The Telegraph, the Mail and the Sun – provided detailed instructions, constituency by constituency, of how potential UKIP voters could vote tactically and so avoid wasting their vote on UKIP.
The situation four weeks before the election was that there was a very large number of voters, most of them ex-Conservatives, who intended, or half-intended, to vote UKIP but had not fully ‘come out’. They ranged from the shy Ukippers who had made up their minds but were reluctant to tell anybody, to lifelong Conservatives who felt no enthusiasm at all for Cameron’s government, were attracted to Nigel and did not want to waste their vote. Most of these voters might well have voted UKIP. Most of them in the end voted Conservative.
The campaign started in earnest on 13th April with a headline in the Mail – ‘Vote Tory where we can’t win. Ukip leader calls on backers to “use their votes as wisely as they can”’ and in the Telegraph – ‘Nigel Farage: Vote Conservative in seats UKIP can’t win’.
This alleged advice from Nigel was widely circulated, to the extent that some loyal UKIP supporters, writing in UKIP Daily, started complaining that “even Nigel” was making things difficult for them. Of course, Nigel never gave any such advice. Even Nigel cannot judge carefully every single word he ever says. No doubt he was asked a loaded question and his answer was twisted. But even if he actually said nothing which could possibly be construed as advice to vote Conservative, those headlines would have appeared. They were too important to be omitted from the Tory campaign. And the other media, notably TV, picked up the alleged advice and gave it greater coverage.
The poison started to work. People who intended to vote UKIP, but had not told anybody, or people who admired Nigel but had a strong tribal loyalty to the Conservatives, began to think. They had a problem over their vote, a mental dilemma. Nigel’s alleged advice offered them a way out of it. Perhaps they could still vote Conservative and so avoid offending residual feelings of tribal loyalty; yet still, by doing so, do their best to help Nigel. And after the election, they would honestly be able to say “I voted Conservative, but I voted tactically”. It would be much easier to say that than to say they had voted UKIP. It might even impress others a little by its political sophistication.
But of course, Nigel only advised his supporters (it seemed) to vote Conservative in constituencies where the UKIP candidate had no chance of winning. How was the voter to decide whether the local UKIP candidate had any chance of winning? What sources of information had he or she? Well, it sounded as if UKIP support was declining nationally, didn’t it? Friends may well have included some shy Ukippers, but none of them had said that they had decided on a UKIP vote. How could the uncertain voter judge? Then, just when a decision had finally to be made, a source of information became available. Most of these voters were regular Telegraph, Mail or Sun readers. They looked up their constituency in the list on Wednesday evening – and they found the answer they needed.
We have seen the results.