Modern conservatism is not about dealing with UKIP, says David Davis
. It's about returning to core values, and promoting policies to help conservative supporters.
He's right in one sense â that the Tories will never win an argument with UKIP. That party operates on an elemental level that has 2,000 supporters chanting "UKIP! UKIP!" in the manner of a football crowd. It could just as easily have been "Hail Victory!"
On the other hand, there is that other political strain â conservatism. And real conservatives can do something that UKIP can never do. Individually and collectively, they can develop policy, including â in the fullness of time â a credible exit plan from the EU.
With that in mind, I was asked recently to pen some observations about the Farage Party, and was able to suggest that the essence of UKIP is negativity. Members know what they don't like, and are united in mutual detestation of the things they abhor.
Beyond this stultifying negativity, though, they have no idea what they actually want, and could not even being to unite around common objectives. There is no common ground, no ideology that could help bind them into a political force. They agree on how much they hate certain things, but there is nothing at all to define UKIP as a political party.
Thus, UKIP may hate the EU, and indeed they are keen to express that hatred at every opportunity. But while the EU is often merely the EUSSR, when it isn't the Fourth Reich, the real hatred is reserved for the "political classes" who support it, the "LibLabCon" traitors, quislings and worse.
In terms of how real conservatives should deal with UKIP, therefore, the most obvious thing to do is accentuate the positives. Unlike UKIP, a real conservative has a vision of what society should be, what the nation should look like, and what is needed to achieve a fairer, better society for all.
As David Davis indicates, therefore, rather than attack UKIP, real conservatives should be stating their case more clearly. Over term, the leadership has betrayed its own membership, which is why so many Tories switched to UKIP in the first place, but this does not stop individuals holding the torch of real conservatism aloft.
Filling the gap is vitally necessary: even if UKIP did get power, it wouldn't know what to do with it. In the 20 years of its existence, it hasn't even been able to devise or publish a credible â or any â EU exit plan.
The reason for this strange absence, though, is highly revealing about the state of UKIP as a party. Even though it is effectively a one-man band dominated by Nigel Farage, at grass roots level it is disorganised bundle of embittered warring tribes.
Within this, it harbours a great secret of which few are aware, that Farage is in thrall to a hard core "Praetorian Guard". But they are not guardians of policy â rather they represent the reactionary inner core of UKIP which demands immediate, unilateral exit from the EU, the so-called "Ollivander" option.
To this sad, dysfunctional crew, the EU treaties are "illegal" and those who signed it are "traitors". Any idea of negotiation or agreement is an anathema. They would sooner see the British economy crash and burn, with ships rusting in port, than accept a deal with Brussels.
So powerful is this group within UKIP that Farage cannot dictate a rational exit plan. To do so would trigger massive splits and blood-letting on a scale not seen since 2001. Then, dissent over the leadership tore the party apart, and triggered the series of events that has cemented Farage in place as the Supreme Leader ever since.
Then, no one was interested in the internal politics of UKIP. Today, such a rupture would not be so private, and Farage knows full well how slender his grip on power really is. He cannot dictate policy because he dare not.
For real conservatives (as opposed to the ersatz
Cameronian version), this gives them one of their most powerful weapons against UKIP. For historical reasons, the official Conservative Party is committed to supporting the prime minister's attempts to renegotiate a relationship with "Europe", but even Mr Cameron has acknowledged that those negotiations could fail.
In anticipation of that failure, real conservatives need to do something UKIP cannot â entertain a serious, wide-ranging debate of what a post-EU Britain would look like, and then produce a comprehensive exit plan, setting out the steps needed to make the vision of an independent sovereign Britain possible.
At the very least, such a plan would show up Mr Cameron's weakness. For, if there is a credible alternative to EU membership on the table, one where the UK can continue trading with its European partners and co-operate on issues of mutual interest, then it would be much harder for him to say he had won a good deal from Brussels.
What goes for an EU exit plan then has equal force with the vexed issue of immigration. Following the collapse of the BNP, Farage has quite deliberately reinvented his own party as BNP-lite, in a bid to attract the Labour supporters that might otherwise have gravitated to his competition.
But, to appeal to the racist tendency that marked out the BNP, Farage had to present the party as anti-immigration, his only policy being to pull up the drawbridge and let in a tiny number of people on license. His party thus invokes images of the white cliffs of Dover, of a fortress Britain that harks back to 1940 when the UK was isolated and the Hun was ranged across the Channel. This is the UKIP vision of heaven.
In making its pitch, UKIP is in fact exploiting a global problem. There is not a developed country in the world that is not under pressure from migration, and many less-developed countries are also suffering serious problems: one just needs to look at Turkey and the flood of Syrian refugees and Kurds that has crossed its border.
As for migration from central and eastern Europe, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the demolition of the iron curtain, does anyone think that, after nearly 50 years of separation, there was not going to be migratory pressure to the affluent West?
The EU aside, countries outside the EU, including Norway and Switzerland, have had to deal with massive inflows, and have had to deal with may of the same problems that we have had to confront.
Thus, while in the UK, migration level is 13 percent, in Norway it is 14.9 percent; in Switzerland it is 23 percent. In Australia, which is the poster child for UKIP's immigration policy, it stood at 6.2 million people (27.3 percent) in 2012, up from 4.7 million people in 2003 (23.6 percent).
Even outside the EU, therefore, we would have been troubled by the global wave of migration. In or out of the EU, the situation needs managing. UKIP has no answers to this â its immigration policy is as slender and as incoherent as its EU exit plan. Real conservatives, on the other hand, are in a position to host a genuine debate, on real answers to problems which so far has eluded the global community.
That is the singular difference between UKIP and real conservatives â answers. UKIP hasn't any, and has no ability to produce them, even though, over the next five years, its 24 MEPs will cost the British taxpayer nearly Â£140 million in salaries, overheads and expenses. For that money, all UKIP seems to be able to do is tell us what it doesn't want. Real conservatives, on the other hand, have the ability to answer the nation's needs.
Then, in one other issue above all else, the difference stands. While UKIP whinges about being in the EU, even the official Conservatives have outflanked them. They have promised an "in-out" referendum.
If UKIP members are genuine in their desire to leave the EU, then their options at the general election are obvious. But then they will have to confront reality: do they really want to get out of the EU, or do they enjoy hating it too much to want to leave? That is the choice they are going to have to make.