Is there any real difference between UKIP supporters and the present-day grassroots Conservative party? What is the demarcation line between the Tories’ ‘blue-rinse brigade’ and the purple-clad supporters of Farage, asks Tim McNamara?
Thinly disguised nationalism seems to be a badge of honour for large numbers of both parties. A romantic view of the past, harking back to some mythical golden age set in the fifties, or even earlier seems to be a de riguer concept. Unquestioning loyalty to the hindsighted status quo of yesteryear (especially the monarchy) attracts many on the right of English politics.
One party is run by a son of a City slicker, public school-educated, independently wealthy, white male and the other is…. well you get the picture.
Strip out the few ‘one nation’ mavericks such as Ken Clarke and the modern day Tory party is a mass of hardline euroscepticism allied to a unbending believe in Adam Smith’s concept of ‘the magic of the hidden hand of the market’. This reduction of political philosophy/pragmatism to a simple binary jus has captured all but the very high ground of the Tory party.
At each successive general election the elected representatives of the Tory party become more and more fundamentalist as influential figures in the party promote people with the same political outlook as themselves. Yet in successive elections modern day Tories are facing a challenge from like-minded individuals in UKIP. This split of the right-wing vote threatens to undermine the hegemony of right-wing forces in the country (especially those in England).
Already there is a build-up of pressure amongst the most ardent Tory eurosceptics for an electoral pact with UKIP. Many Tories believe that if UKIP did not exist they would benefit by 20-30 seats at the general election in May 2014.
Abraham Lincoln’s maxim that ‘A House divided cannot stand’ holds true not just for political parties but also for the translation of political ideas into policies by those who share such common beliefs. At the present time short-sighted tribalism seems to get in the way of electoral self-interest.
It took Labour a decade or more to learn the lessons of the internecine battles over ideological purity in the Seventies and Eighties. Some Tory supporters already characterise Farage as leading a UK Militant tendency Party rather than a UK independence party.
For the ‘set’ that currently run the Tory party, a large influx of UKIP supporters would not necessarily be in their best long-term interests. Careerist politicians such as Osborne, Hunt, etc. etc. would be in great danger of being usurped by Gove or Johnson riding a populist tide of right-wing political fundamentalism. Yet a year is a very, very long time in politics and with UKIP poised to do very well in the European elections, the tectonic plates under the Tory party will inevitably move significantly.
Cameron and his camp followers face an extremely difficult challenge to win the next election. The failure of electoral reform and the consequent halt to redrawing of constituency boundaries means that a Conservative Government with a majority in the House of Commons is highly unlikely at the 2015 general election. Whether the Tories go into coalition with Clegget al or a Labour Government is returned, Cameron will be blamed by the Tories and seen as an electoral failure. Only in the unlikely event of a Tory majority Government would that save him.
This would have two highly likely consequences. Firstly Cameron would almost certainly be defenestrated as party leader (probably quite rapidly). Secondly the rancour on the right of English politics about being ‘cheated’ of their right to an in-out EU referendum would be immense.
In these circumstances, it is almost certain that the Tories would turn rightwards and choose a right wing, ardent eurosceptic populist. This would partly be a reaction to the gravitational pull of a highly motivated UKIP.
One strong indicator of the convergent paths the two parties are following is their respective party groups in the European Parliament (EP). Except for the odd political dunce such as UKIP’s Geoffrey Bloom, you would be hard pressed to discern any noticable difference between them. The Tory’s eminence gris in the EP, Daniel Hannan is as eurosceptic as Nigel Farage and just as right-wing.
Both believe in a form of neo-Conservatism more akin to US Republican mainstream thought than anything previously found in UK politics. Like labour’s entryist groups in the 80‘s it is the narcissism of small differences that makes them (currently) intensely dislike each other. Yet, analysis of voting patterns in the EP indicates that Tory and UKIP MEPs vote the same way on the large majority of votes.
Several political analysts foresee a political landscape with the Tories splitting into two parties if they fail to win the next election. One, a libertarian party run by a metropolitan elite and the other as a nationalist more authoritarian group. This, it has to be acknowledged, has a certain political logic. However, the nationalists/authoritarians with their trenchant euroscepticism form the vast majority of the present-day Tory party grassroots.
I would argue that large swathes of both the Tories and UKIP are by inclination much more English nationalist and authoritarian than Cameron and his chums are prepared to acknowledge. The time will be ripe for a realignment of political forces in the UK (with or without Scotland).
Labour spent several years fighting the entryism of the Socialist Revolutionary League in the form of the Militant Tendency. It was a long and bitter campaign fighting the subterfuge of it’s leftist political opponent.
UKIP’s entryism will be in plain sight with a post-2015 Tory party helping to build the Trojan horse that will contain nearly all of Farage’s followers in UKIP. Because Farage will recognise his greatest (and probably only) opportunity to make a real impact on English politics will be from within the Tory party. Only by merging his party will he be accepted by the large majority of Tory members.
Tim McNamara is head of the Peercourt consultancy firm. He was previously political editor at the European Commission