UKIP leader Nigel Farage canvasses for his party's local candidate Glyn Wright in Weaste, near Salford, on September 30, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tory group Renewal sharpens the case against a Conservative-UKIP pact

As the blue collar modernising group warns, a deal with UKIP would alienate the centrist voters that the Tories need if they are to ever win a majority again.

Despite the Conservative leadership continually ruling it out, the idea of a Tory-UKIP pact as the solution to the party's polling woes continues to persist. The belief that UKIP voters are simply "Tories on holiday" encourages many on the right to believe that victory can be achieved by uniting the two parties in a new electoral alliance, with UKIP standing down in some Conservative constituencies and the Conservatives standing down in others. 

It's easy to see why many make this assumption. Polling by YouGov shows that nearly half (45 per cent) of UKIP supporters voted Tory in 2010 and their views are closer to the Conservatives' than any of the other main parties. But as David Skelton, the head of blue collar modernising group Renewal, writes in today's Guardian, this analysis ignores several inconvenient truths. The first is that, pact or no pact, a large number of UKIP supporters will not vote Conservative. As Skelton notes, polling by Ipsos MORI shows that 48 per cent would never back the party, compared to 40 per cent of all voters (and 43 per cent of Lib Dems). Rather than defecting to the Tories, many would respond to a pact by voting for another party, spoiling their ballot ("UKIP") or simply not voting at all. Voters, as Skelton writes, "can't simply be moved around like pawns on a chess board", and it is patronising to assume as much. 

To this, some will reply: so what? If a pact wins back some UKIP voters, that is better than winning none. But this ignores the larger number of voters that a pact could repel, including many of those the Tories need to win if they are to ever achieve a majority again. Skelton highlights the finding that ethnic minority voters (just 16 per cent of whom voted Conservative in 2010) hold the most negative view of UKIP and that while just over a third (35 per cent) would never consider voting Conservative, 41 per cent would never vote UKIP. 

A pact with UKIP, a party that is toxic to many voters (from LGBT voters who dislike its opposition to gay marriage, to working class voters who dislike its tax and spending policies), would risk alienating the centrist supporters that the Tories attracted in 2010 and those they need to attract in 2015. Polling by YouGov last year found that a quarter of current Conservative supporters wouldn’t vote for the party if it entered a pact with UKIP, with 5 per cent switching to Labour, 4 per cent to the Lib Dems and 16 per cent abstaining. 

Even if a pact won the Tories more votes in the short-term (something that is far from certain), it would risk damaging them in the long-term. A deal with UKIP would be seen as confirmation that the Conservatives are no longer a majority party and can only win by piggybacking on Farage. Rather than seeking to achieve victory through the artificial means of a pact, the Tories should focus on developing a one nation offer with the potential to attract those alienated by the party (such as BME, working class, northern and Scottish voters) in the 22 years since it last won a majority. This should include the policies advocated by Renewal, including a rise in the minimum wage, the building of a million homes and the creation of a new Secretary of State for consumer protection. 

With the the European elections, in which UKIP is almost certain to come first or second (pushing the Tories into third place in a national election for the first time), likely to lead to new demands for a pact, the challenge for Tory modernisers is to ensure their arguments are not crowded out in the panic that could follow defeat. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”