And so it begins. I had hoped that the desperate Tory call of “Vote UKIP, get Miliband” would not be heard in earnest until after the EU elections in May, around the same time as we begin to hear the Cuckoo call that it so resembles.
Today Lord Ashcroft has published a piece on Conservative Home, arguing why a vote for UKIP is just a vote for Labour.
Now I normally have time for Lord Ashcroft, his polling exercises are invariably interesting. However he lost me with his first sentence:
“In the wake of this week’s Clegg-Farage Euro debate – the Division Two play-offs of British politics…”
If Lord Ashcroft is looking for reasons why people are abandoning the Tories then he could do worse than to look right under his nose. It’s exactly that kind of casual arrogance and disregard for public opinion that haemorrhages Tory votes. How patronising. If the Tories and Labour are Division 1, then much like the overpaid, out of touch top football league in this country, I’ll stick with the second tier thank you.
Leaving aside the somewhat tawdry idea that people should vote not according to their principles, convictions and what they believe in but instead vote negatively to keep another party out, Lord Ashcroft’s argument simply doesn’t stand up to the facts as we know them.
As we have seen in by-elections and local elections up and down the country, UKIP are now the official opposition in many constituencies. There can be no clearer illustration than the result of the Eastleigh by-election, where Tory voters tripped the UKIP candidate as she was about to cross the winning line, handing the Lib Dems victory. In many marginal seats, the cry should be “Vote UKIP, get UKIP”.
The Tories have had a post-budget bounce, they may sustain this if the relatively positive economic news continues over the next year. Labour are devoid of any real alternative, and are saddled with a deeply unappealing leader. Despite this, the next election is still Labour’s to lose. Miliband knows he doesn’t have to be popular, or risk having any policies that might come back and bite him. He is pursuing the cynical 35%, do as little as possible, route to Downing Street. With voters returning to Labour following their historical low point under Gordon Brown in 2010, the extinction of the Lib Dems as an alternative for left leaning voters, and the biased boundary system, Miliband would have to do something spectacular not to lead the biggest party come May 2015. All he needs to do is win back a few ex-Labour voters, which he will do with soundbites such as “tax the rich”, “bullingdon this”, “bankers that”, and he’s a dead cert.
Cameron couldn’t win in 2010 against Brown and a financial disaster area, and he hasn’t exactly been winning friends (especially amongst his own supporters) since. They have no chance in 2015.
It also depends what we mean by “get Labour” or “get UKIP”. Not even the most committed UKIP supporter will be campaigning over the coming 12 months in expectation of a UKIP majority in the House of Commons. But it is still the case that if you vote UKIP you will “get UKIP”. If enough people do then we will see UKIP MPs. Odds at the bookies following the leader’s debates this week were cut to 11/10 for at least one UKIP MP in 2015. It is not inconceivable that even a small number of UKIP MPs could wield significant power in a hung parliament (see Lib Dems).
Regardless of how many UKIP MPs are returned, we should not underestimate the very real difference to UK politics that voting UKIP has already made. A big UKIP vote share across the country in 2015 will continue to influence the established parties and remind them that they need to work a bit harder. The rise in UKIP support since 2010 alone has forced the established parties to at least talk about immigration, the EU and a referendum. Without UKIP as a credible electoral alternative, the established parties would be free to continue their shameful policy of ignoring these issues, and we would certainly never have seen the Deputy PM engaging in a debate on the EU.
The threat of Ed Miliband as Prime Minister is a powerful one. The majority of people will be appalled if this comes to pass in 2015. However it is simply not true that voting Conservative instead of UKIP will prevent this happening. There are simply not enough ex-Tory voters in UKIP’s ranks who could ever contemplate voting Tory again. As Lord Ashcroft says, based on his recent “mega-poll” on attitudes to the EU:
“…just one in ten UKIP supporters both agree that a vote for the party increased the chances of a Miliband victory and saying this might make a difference to how they ended up casting their ballot.”
So 90% of UKIP supporters think the “vote UKIP, get Labour” canard holds no water. The few that think there might be something in it, might possibly change how they vote. Might. I would suggest they might not. Those UKIP supporters who have formerly voted Tory that I have spoken to would not return to the party at any price. I am one of them. Yes Miliband is unpalatable, but another 5 years of Cameron is not a sufficiently attractive bribe for us to vote against our beliefs and principles. The disingenuous, insincere and conditional “promise” of a referendum in 2017 following unachievable “renegotiation” is nothing but a meaningless stunt. Labour or Tory, they are both pro-EU.
If we do see Ed and Justine walking into 10 Downing Street, Tory supporters should look to their own leadership for the reason why. Blame will lie with a Tory leadership so devoid of ideas and conviction, so unable to represent the views of their former voters, that a campaign of “vote for us so the other lot don’t get in” seems like a good line. Don’t blame UKIP voters.
With absolutely no sense of irony, on the same day that Lord Ashcroft published his “Vote UKIP, get Labour” shtick, he also Tweeted this…
So vote Con, get Labour then Lord Ashcroft?