Peter Oborne describes UKIP as “The Conservative Party in exile”. Dan Hannan is arguing for some kind of deal between the Conservative Party and UKIP. (Nigel Farage said he’d only consider it if Cameron gave a promise of an In/Out referendum “signed in blood”). Now Conservative Vice Chairman Michael Fabricant has called on David Cameron to offer a deal with UKIP — an In/Out referendum on condition that UKIP agrees not to stand against Tories. Some hope! They’d have to do better than that.
Nigel Farage, quite rightly, has Tweeted “No deals with the Tories — it’s war!” Indeed Fabricant’s initiative dramatises the Tories’ dilemma. It’s not just UKIP’s double-figure polling figures (and 14.3% in Corby). It’s the dramatic decline in Conservative Party membership, with constituency associations across the nation reporting members unwilling to renew membership. That’s because traditional Tory members and activists just can’t understand the party’s position on the EU, on energy and wind farms, on immigration, on gay marriage, on foreign aid. Cameron just doesn’t seem to recognise conservative values any more. Indeed that’s why I left the Tories and joined UKIP, and clearly I’m not alone.
But I’m concerned that commentators who ought to know better seem to assume that UKIP voters are overwhelmingly former Tory voters. They’re not.
I was reminded of this on Saturday when I spoke at an event in Withington, Gloucestershire (picture above). One of the guests was a former Lib-Dem Councillor who is now with UKIP. Yes, you read that right. Lib-Dem. I well remember an earlier branch meeting in my own region where I said “We attract new members from both Tory and Labour, but I guess we don’t get too many from the Lib-Dems”. I expected ironic laughter, but two members said “Well we’re former Lib-Dem Councillors”. Their story was interesting — they had challenged their Lib-Dem MEP Bill Newton Dunn on his run-away Europhilia, and when he re-stated his position, they left the party.
I’ve seen research showing that around half of Lib-Dem voters actually disagree with their party over the EU. Indeed my sister once challenged a Lib-Dem canvasser on her doorstep, who didn’t even know that the Lib-Dems had a sell-out pro-EU policy, and virtually apologised.
So yes. Certainly the UK’s third (and fastest-growing) party is attracting former Tory and Labour members and voters. I’ve seen in Corby and Rotherham the former Labour voters coming to UKIP. In Corby town, Labour’s heartland in the constituency, I understand that UKIP came second behind Labour. But we’re also attracting Lib-Dems and previous non-voters. After all, we can’t blame those who concluded that all the old parties are so similar that there’s no point in voting at all. But show them UKIP’s policies, and they may change their minds.
So is UKIP left or right? You can’t make the labels fit. We’re pro-Britain and against supra-national governance, but also pro-international trade and cooperation. We’re in favour of affordable energy. We’re not against immigration, but we’re against an immigration free-for all. We’re broadly libertarian and against the nanny-state. It’s not the government’s job to tell people how much they should drink, nor to set a minimum price for alcohol. So far as possible, we want to set citizens and businesses free from government interference.
Personally, I tend towards a classical liberal economic approach, which some see as right-wing, but only on the pragmatic basis that it seems to work. We’re in favour of low taxes, not to help the rich, but because it attracts investment and maximises incentives and promotes growth and jobs.
That’s not left or right. It’s pragmatic common sense. My litmus test is the London taxi driver. I find that if he agrees, the policy probably makes sense.
That does mean that we in UKIP have to be clear that we’re not merely Tories in different hats, and with a slightly different view on Europe. We have our own distinctive policies that appeal across the board. So we must be careful not to let gossip about electoral pacts with the Tories give the wrong message to Labour and Lib-Dem voters who will come to us because of our own distinctive policies, but may be put off if we’re seen as close to the Tories.