By the end of his 8.10 interview on the Today programme, Nigel Farage was struggling a little. Once John Humphrys had taken him away from his hobby horse of a European Union Referendum, the UKIP leader started to wobble.
Humphrys: Let’s have a look at your policies. A bit puzzling, in a way, and it’s not the first time a political leader has done this. You seem to want to cut back taxes, you want to roll back the state, and yet, you want to spend loads of money on loads of things.
Farage: Well, we want to spend more money on defence, that is absolutely true, and we think, and we think…
Humphrys: Student grants, you want to restore student grants, free eye tests, free dental care…
Farage: Well, we think that what’s happened to our defences is absolutely shameful. As far as universities are concerned, we’re of the view and we have been for some time, that we’re simply sending too many 18-year-olds onto university. We should be sending fewer to university, and if we did that we wouldn’t have to charge everybody £9,000 a year.
Humphrys: No, you’d give them student grants! You’d go back to the old days, the good old days, lots of people would say, but by golly, it would cost.
Farage: Yes, it would cost, but, I re-emphasise the point, we would be sending fewer students.
There’s an obvious and unfortunate parallel here with another leader of a small party who made a costly promise about student fees which he never thought he’d have to put into practice. But the most important thing for Conservatives to learn from Farage’s floundering is not that he might be easy to demolish at an election hustings event with a bit of judicious probing on policy details, but that if the Tories deal with the Europe Problem, they won’t need to worry about pacts with UKIP.
John Baron made this point to me when I chatted to him recently about his continuing push for the Prime Minister to commit to legislation in this parliament for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in the next. If the Conservatives could go to the country in 2015 with a referendum already in place within the next couple of years, then UKIP wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. The party’s main attraction is its ability to be vocal on Europe where David Cameron feels forced to be nuanced or silent. Baron argued that a referendum commitment from the Conservatives would pull the rug from under Farage’s feet because then voters would see that they could vote for a party with credible policies and spending plans while getting the referendum they want.
I’ve spoken to one Conservative MP who would ‘definitely’ consider some kind of joint arrangement with UKIP in their constituency in 2015. But Farage is raising the stakes here when he calls for a ‘promise written in blood’ that there would be In/Out referendum rather than something that simply helps a Conservative reclaim votes bleeding away to UKIP. The onus is now on David Cameron to move to prevent this pact from being necessary.Tags: EU referendum, Nigel Farage, UK politics, UKIP