I was at a funeral on Friday and so late catching-up with the latest entertainment provided by UKIP. But, gosh, thank heavens for Godfrey Bloom. Not just because he and his ilk have injected some welcome craziness into British politics – the circus always needs new clowns – but because by doing so they have reminded us of the stakes involved.
Bloom – last heard decrying aid squandered on feckless Bongo Bongo Land – one-upped himself with his talk of sluts who fail to clean their kitchens properly. Sure, there was something refreshing about hearing Nigel Farage admit all this amounted to a disaster for UKIP but the bigger point is that it should concentrate Tory minds.
Far too many Tories seem to think UKIP might be rascals but rascals-with-their-heart-in-the-right-place. A little crude, a little uncouth but fundamentally decent types. You might not want to see them too often but they add to the gaiety of family life. Something like that anyway.
And there is, of course, a part of the Tory party that thinks UKIP are a useful way of screwing David Cameron’s courage to the proper sticking place. Without Le Farage Cameron would not be committing himself to renegotiating the terms of Britain’s EU membership. Nor, absent the UKIP knife to his back, would he be in favour of a referendum on the outcome of those (notional) negotiations. So UKIP are a handy ally.
So much orthodox Tory thinking goes. There are few real enemies to the right.
Except, of course, there are. The Tory leadership can never properly pacify the Kippers because, fundamentally, the Kippers neither want to be pacified nor expect to be so. They’re having much too much fun. And, besides, they despise David Cameron.
Cosying-up to UKIP – hoping for a “Dated Farage, Married Cameron” kind of outcome – is not a cost-free enterprise. It sends a message and a signal. It tells voters under the age of 50 that the Tory party is obsessed with the votes of reactionary pensioners at the expense of the wider national interest. That has consequences.
UKIP’s supporters are not all from the right, of course, and nor are they all pensioners. Nevertheless they are older and further to the right than most other voters. Pandering to UKIP might just (though I doubt it) be a viable short-term option for the Tories but it is desperately dangerous in the medium to longer term.
Which is why Godfrey Bloom has done Cameron a service. Sure, he’s been “disciplined” by UKIP now but at what point do “rogue” representatives cease to be rogues and instead come to be seen as typical? Bloom is hardly the first UKIP figure to be in trouble.
Suppose, for a moment, that Ed Miliband and the Labour party decided to ally themselves with, say, Tommy Sheridan and others of his ilk. Suppose, indeed, that a renewed Militant Tendency threatened Labour from the left and that, faced with this awkwardness, the Labour leadership indulged talk of pacts and alliances with the far-left. Most people on the centre-right and many on the moderate left would assume Labour was losing touch with reality and the places from which elections are won.
Now consider the impact of a closer relationship between UKIP and the Tories. Quite. It is the same thing. Voters who actually quite like modern Britain will not be impressed by a Conservative party keen on cuddling up to a party that, by and large, actually hates modern Britain and thinks the place has gone to the dogs. (And UKIP aren’t a libertarian party either, by the way.)
UKIP threaten the entire point and purpose of David Cameron’s leadership. It is not so long ago, you know, that the Tory party was pretty unelectable itself. What better way to convince average, moderate, voters that the party is bored of the tedious compromises of government than by flirting with a party (UKIP) most voters wouldn’t trust to run anything more complicated than the tea tent at the local village fete?
Godfrey Bloom has helped us be reminded of all this and so, yes, thank heavens for him. He has done the country – and the Conservatives – some service. Albeit unwittingly.Tags: british politics, Conservatives, David Cameron. UKIP, Ed Miliband, Godfrey Bloom, Labour, Nigel Farage, Tommy Sheridan, Tories, Tory modernisers, Westminster