EU Referendum

UK politics: a vote for UKIP is a vote for Labour?


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I thought it might be a good idea to ignore the recent poll from Lord Ashcroft which suggested that voting for UKIP would let in a Labour government. My analysis last Friday said about as much on the current electoral position as I thought worth saying. But what gives the poll extra impact is the reaction of Peter Oborne, who seems to think this trivial piece of news is of some importance.

This correspondent believes it was the most interesting domestic event of the weekend, more so than the "increasingly tiresome Lib-Dem conference". On that, at least, he is right. Watching paint dry (or the Costa Concordia being righted) would be more entertaining than the Lib-Dem conference.

But what Oborne found fascinating was the finding that the situation in Conservative/Labour marginal seats will determine the result of the election. The good news, he says, is that Ed Miliband and Labour have made no headway at all. The bad news is that UKIP has carved up the Conservative vote, giving Labour a lead in marginal seats which has risen from nine points to 14 over the last two years.

"The tripling of UKIP's vote share in marginal seats since 2010", writes Lord Ashcroft, "threatens to put Ed Miliband in Downing Street in spite of Labour's lukewarm appeal. The question is what the Conservatives can do about it".

What makes this of some interest to us is that we identified the "UKIP effect" in 2005, and again in 2010, long before the chatterati were prepared to recognise it. Now, at last, many years down the line, they are beginning to recognise, if not understand, the threat. And here, Oborne thinks he knows what to do about it. In fact, it is obvious to him what the Conservatives should do. "They need to minimise the UKIP vote", he says, "and that means a sharp change in tactics".

For the last decade or more, he concedes, "the Conservatives have made a series of patronising, poorly judged and completely counterproductive attacks on UKIP members. That policy should now be abandoned".

Instead, Osborne thinks the Conservatives should "point out time and again that a vote for UKIP is in effect a vote for Labour, and that Labour is a pro-European party". They should add that "Labour is refusing to offer a referendum on European membership, while the Conservatives are promising to do so".

To sum up, says Oborne, UKIP means a Labour government, euro-federalism and no referendum.

It really must be wonderful being a Telegraph political correspondent. One make facile, simplistic comments, offer superficial analyses and then walk away from the 1,500 of so comments that disagree with you.

For the rest of us, there are other possibilities. Firstly, even under a Conservative government, an "in-out" referendum in 2017 or thereabouts is not going to happen. But, we might have a "yes-no" referendum in the next parliamentary session, as a result of a new treaty. However, we might be better off fighting that with a Labour government in office. 

Confounding the Oborne/Ashcroft analysis, of a vote for UKIP is likely to deliver a Labour government, then that is obviously the way to go in order to win a "yes-no" referendum. But, as I mentioned in my analytical piece last Friday, if the contest in 2015 begins to look tight, voters start to get serious. We could be looking at a two-party squeeze which knocks UKIP out of the game. Greater events will shape the vote.

More likely than not, I believe, as the election draws closer, people will take a more critical look at Ed Miliband and conclude that he is not prime ministerial material. Labour voters will stay at home in their droves, and it will only take a weak Conservative surge to put Mr Cameron back in No 10. In these circumstances, the UKIP vote will be an irrelevance.

With so many variables, though, we stick to our original view – that the next election is impossible to predict. There is one thing about which we can be certain. As a deliciously acerbic piece by James Snell in huffpuff tells us, there is no way that Nigel Farage will ever end up in Downing Street - voters at large do not respond to his boozy bolshiness, he says.

But still, pathetically, UKIP supporters pretend that their struggling "movement" has a long term political future, Snell writes. "UKIP has had its share of scandals; with fascist would be councillors, a starting stifling of free speech in its youth organisation, general - hysterical - duplicity in immigration statistics, and insane budgetary predictions". Despite this, we are told, "enamoured obsessives continue to people online message boards, chanting almost as one: 'UKIP is the only way!' and other moronic sentiments to that effect".

Snell thinks all of this support will be useless anyway. In the end, he says, the new socially liberal Tories will surpass UKIP at the next general election. People do not want to live in the country UKIP ceaselessly promotes; and perhaps when "kippers" realise this, they might put their efforts towards something of actual importance, and stop trying so enthusiastically to hand Ed Miliband the keys to Number Ten.

So there again we get another commentator suggesting that a note for UKIP is a vote for Labour. But there is something more nuanced here. If Oborne thinks the Conservatives should change their tactics, Snell is suggesting that UKIP should also change theirs. Even though he offers no detail, that is not bad advice. The "moronic sentiments" will only go so far. Offering a coherent EU exit plan might also help.