Could the UKIP caravan hurt the Tories?
The current favourite to succeed Roger Knapman in the UKIP leadership elecrtion which closes on September 7 is MEP Nigel Farage, who stood for the party in the Bromley by-election.
The key point that Farage has grasped is that UKIP can no longer rely upon being a single-issue party if it wishes to grow. In his Manifesto, he sets out his view of the Partyâ€™s philosophy:
We are a unique brand. Nationalist with a small â€˜nâ€™, libertarian, and in favour of small government and Parliamentary sovereignty. We are opposed to unlimited immigration, high taxes and bureaucracy. He believes that this philosophy, with an obvious appeal to the strongly right-of-centre, will enable the party to build beyond its current small base.
Farageâ€™s main rival is Party Chairman David Campbell Bannerman, the great-great-great-great-nephew of Sir Henry, Liberal Prime-Minister from 1906-8. After many years as a Conservative Councillor, Campbell Bannerman joined UKIP four years ago. He, too, recognises that the party is at a cross-roads:
Does the Party wish to stay as it is â€“ small, single issue focused, doing well in Euro elections, occasionally making a lot of noise, with one regular face, but not achieving enough credibility or success in British domestic politics? Or does it change gear to become a larger, serious party of opposition, more professional in its approach, with a full policy manifesto and real commitment to winning elections of all sorts – local, Scottish, Welsh, mayoral and Westminster as well as Euro elections – and able to take advantage of the huge opportunities of a disenchanted electorate and failed old parties ?
Cambell Bannerman also advocates the sort of robust rightist agenda proposed by Farage; that was in the Conservativesâ€™ 2005 Manifesto; and that David Cameron is now seeking to eschew to improve his partyâ€™s electoral fortunes.
Cameronâ€™s centrist strategy for the Conservatives is based on seeking to capture moderate voters from Labour and the Lib Dems and while his core vote may grumble, it has nowhere else to go so will continue loyally to put their Xs in the blue column
But if UKIP gets it act together in the direction that the two front-runners for its leadership propose, then could a serious competitive threat to the Conservatives emerge?
It has been no means clear that the current, single-issue UKIP takes the majority of its support from the Conservatives. The party has hurt the Tories in past elections, but probably not as much as it might have. But if UKIP adopted a broader, â€œOld Toryâ€ policy platform, would it have a more direct appeal to the traditionalist Conservative voter that Cameron needs to remain on board?
Lord Tebbit recently wrote in the Spectator:“..Bromley suggests that while Conservative voters do believe that the new Conservative Party is unlike the one they used to support, Mr Cameron’s target Labour and Liberal voters do not, and the Tories are in danger of missing the electoral opportunity of a lifetime”.
Finally, if UKIPs campaigning strength were to be more carefully targeted in the manner used most effectively by the Liberal Democrats, then might it bring them their first Westminster seats and thus at a stroke remove the largest hurdle to their future – credibility? This would set them well on the road to their major goal of replacing the Conservatives on the right of British politics.
As yet there is no betting market on the UKIP leadership.
Tabman is Lib Dem blogger and has been a long-standing contributor to the site
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