Sunday, April 10, 2005

A modicum of strategic thinking

Quick off the mark, the Scotsman has posted on its website the Press Association report on "UKIP's offer to Eurosceptic candidates" made by Nigel Farage on the BBC Breakfast with Frost show this morning.

According to the report, Farage said the party would not run against any candidates from the major parties who publicly stated their intention to seek Britain's withdrawal from the EU's political structures.

UKIP would be willing to step back and make way for any Conservative or Labour candidate who announced that they wanted an "amicable divorce" from the EU and a return to a free-trade relationship with the continent, said Farage.

"In those circumstances, I can't envisage that UKIP would run a candidate against anyone saying that," he added, then remarking: "But none of them are."

His offer, we are told, will be seen as an appeal particularly to Eurosceptic Conservative MPs who are fearful of seeing their support squeezed on 5 May if there is a repeat of UKIP’s strong showing in last June's European Parliament elections, when it took 16 percent of the vote.

However, as Farage well knows, no Conservative candidate can deliver a pledge which runs in the face of declared party policy, especially after the Howard Flight debacle, where even such a senior luminary of the party was ousted without a second thought.

What UKIP needs to do though, is think through its own policy (there is a first time for everything). Given that the French do not vote "no" in their referendum, bringing the constitution crashing to a halt, immediately after the election we will be confronting a major referendum campaign in which the Conservatives are committed to the "no" camp.

UKIP, therefore, needs to consider whether its activities will hinder the return of MPs who are prepared to support the "no" side or whether they will aid the election of MPs who will be working for the "yes" camp.

It is all very well to take a purist line, and demand from candidates a commitment to leave the EU, but that will never happen. Even those sitting MPs who are totally committed to withdrawal are not prepared to say so publicly, and it would be unwise of them to do so.

But, in many respects, even to ask them to do so is naïve. Support for the "project" was built in the UK by MPs working within the system, many of them never openly declaring the end point, or their part in it. If we are successfully to disengage, equally, we need MPs working within the system to that end. To ask them to declare their hand is absurd.

On this basis, UKIP's best tactic would be to target, first and foremost, known Europhile MPs, including most Labour and virtually all LibDems, as well as Ken Clarke, David Curry and his ilk.

Furthermore, it does not behove Farage to talk down the Conservative's declared intention to renegotiate aspects of EU policy, such as the Common Fisheries Policy – as he did on the Frost programme, saying that it was "not going to happen", especially as his own party's attempts to deliver an alternative policy have proved so childishly amateurish.

Either Farage believes in the supremacy of Parliament – it which case repatriation of policies is perfectly feasible – or he does not, in which case the game is already over: we cannot leave. He might as well pack his bags and emigrate.

A more sensible stance would be to applaud moves made in the right direction, giving credit where credit is due. If UKIP uniformly condemns everything the Conservatives do, advocates of change with the Party will find it harder to push their agenda. All in all, therefore, a modicum of strategic thinking would be welcome.

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