Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Tories v UKIP

Just to prove that what I sounded (for the time being) was the Reveille, not the Last Post, here is an article about the latests brouhaha between UKIP and the Conservatives. Disregarding past experience the Tories have decided to go for what they consider to be their greatest enemy - UKIP.

Tactically, this is about as stupid a thing to do as anyone can think of. Firstly, UKIP is a small party and, therefore, it does not appear to be quite the most appropriate thing for Her Majesty's Opposition to concentrate fire on it. Secondly, the Tories are trying to build up their image as the "real" eurosceptic party. From their point of view, therefore, it appears to make sense to attack the one rival in that field (actually, now there are two with the BNP acquiring a following) but from the point of view of the electorate it seems rather odd that the fire should be reserved for their putative allies rather than their enemy. Thirdly, providing UKIP with badly needed publicity may not be quite what the Tories really want.

As it happens, I do not agree with the boss about Robin Page. I consider the man to be a crashing bore with the political nous of a backward gnat. His whining about his maltreatment at the hands of UKIP leaves me cold as, I suspect from past experience, that he is really miffed because of not being given sufficient respect. Tant pis.

Whoever engineered the Robin Page story may well live to regret it. The net result of it has been more coverage of UKIP in the media, both old and new, than it has had for a long time with Nigel Farage coming out fighting in the Daily Telegraph. I think the boss is wrong - neither UKIP nor Farage are finished any more than they were finished all those other times it was predicted by many.

I had better declare something resembling an interest here. In a way, I am responsible for recruiting Nigel Farage into what was then the Anti-Federalist League and he played some part in my purge from what afterwards became the UK Independence Party. Therefore, I have known about the Farage problem (if I may call it that) and the general UKIP problem for some time - longer than most people who sound off on the subject. And I still think the Tories are making a tactical mistake but there is very little space for them to manoeuvre in.

At present, the Conservative campaign for the European Parliament seems to be, roughly speaking, vote for us or you will get socialism and federalism with the rider that if you vote UKIP then you will also get socialism and federalism because Labour will get more seats. There are so many things wrong with that argument that it is difficult to know where to start.

Let me make a few points. Anyone who argues that MEPs can or that Tory MEPs will alter the EU's development either knows nothing about that organization or does not care about the truth as long as he or she can get in there. Furthermore, federalism is somewhat outdated; it is many years since most of us have realized that the EU is not intending to be a federalist state in the way the USA or Canada are.

In fact it matters very little who gets in to the Toy Parliament but, rightly or wrongly and I think wrongly, the Tories see the forthcoming June election as a trial run for next year's general one. If they do well in the European and local elections then the road to Number 10 will be open, which is the only thing they care about. What they will do when they get there is anybody's guess.

One of the bloggers to pick up the story is Iain Dale, who has a higher opinion of Nigel Farage than the boss does and has interviewed the man for next month's GQ Magazine. He, too, links to the article in the Independent, not precisely the best source for accurate information about politics in general and UKIP in particular, mostly because they have been wrong so often about so many things.

In this article we also have a throw-away comment about Professor Tim Congdon rejoining the Conservative Party. There have been rumours about disagreements between UKIP leadership and Professor Congdon before and the boss duly documented them at the time. It is hard to tell whether the good professor has gone the whole hog and rejoined the Tories as this is the only official claim I have seen of such a development.

When Professor Congdon left the Tories and joined UKIP he did so with flags flying and guns blazing. There was a long article in the Daily Telegraph that listed all the many things he found wrong with the Boy-King and his party. Most, if not all of those things are still there. That may be the reason why there has been so little publicity about the prodigal's return if, indeed, it has happened. Professor Congdon may not like the idea of having to explain why he has now decided to overlook all the problems he thought to be insurmountable two years ago.

Iain Dale also suggests that Malcolm Pearson may well be the next to follow. This is wishful thinking. In the first place, given the Lord Pearson's track record on the European issue from Maastricht onwards, the Tories would not really want him back but, more to the point, he really cares very passionately about it, believing not just that Britain must come out of the EU but that the entire Treaty of Rome should be torn up and we must start again.

In other words, both he and his colleague, Lord Willoughby de Broke are men of principle. That is about as far from the Conservative "eurosceptics" as one can be. I suspect that Nigel Farage will work considerably harder to keep the two peers on board than he would ever have bothered with the tiresome Robin Page, as they are of far greater use to UKIP and as he, though, perhaps, not every Tory, knows there are alternatives for them: the House of Lords still has a section for Cross-Bench, that is independent peers, a very valuable part of the House. Let us hope neither Gordon Brown nor David Cameron (if it be he after the next election) get round to abolishing them.

The real problem the Tories have is that they have become a one-issue party as well. Their issue is "get rid of Gordon Brown". Nothing wrong with that and it will probably win them the next election though one can never be quite certain in a democracy but it is not sufficient for the future as John O'Sullivan, for one, has pointed out.

Why, I keep asking various ToryBoys and Girls, should I vote for you in the European election? Come to think of it, what are you going to do when you have got your snouts in the trough and your leader is in Number 10? Maybe, instead of telling us that a vote for UKIP is a vote for socialism (as, let's face it, a vote for the Tories is a vote for socialism) they should concentrate on answering that question.