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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To beat the Trump hype, we need a return to old-fashioned political virtues

If we want to resist the Trumpification of politics, what we need is restraint, duty and incorruptibility.

After the 1992 US presidential election, Alistair Cooke’s celebrated BBC radio series Letter from America struck a poignant note. Cooke described Bill Clinton’s worn jeans and checked wool shirt, contrasting them with George H W Bush’s buttoned-up Wasp manners and buttoned-down Ivy League shirts. Clinton’s style, Cooke argued, was a rebuke to a tired social and political establishment. His casualness was the new America.

Cooke, then 83, was honest enough to admit unease about this departure from the old, patrician modes and manners. “Along with the passing of George Bush,” he said, “we shall see, I fear, the passing of the blue blazer.” Cooke seemed right at the time. But don’t write off the blue blazer just yet. As ruling elites change, so does the appropriate counterpoint. To topple Bush’s stuffy golf club elites, Clinton picked up his saxophone, took off his tie and felt everyone’s pain. And now? The subtext of these turbulent months (the inevitable second question, prompted by “How do you beat Donald Trump?”) is: “What should ­tomorrow’s leaders, the leaders we crave, look and sound like?”

My conjecture is that, to beat Trump and his type – bling, shiny suits, dodgy deals – we should push towards centre stage an underestimated set of political virtues: restraint, duty and incorruptibility. If it weren’t for the gender associations, I would be tempted to call this quality gentlemanliness. Aside from personal virtue – signally lacking in the Clinton camp – how might decency inform public debate as it comes under attack from maverick showmen trained in the media circus? How can the middle ground regain its confidence?

First, level with the public. Maybe liberalism hasn’t failed so much as its messaging has failed. Instead of smashing the electorate over the head with the idea that everything is just great, make the case that not everything can be for the best in all possible worlds. As populists reach for empty slogans, a new space has opened up. Accept and exploit those asymmetries: more people are ready to hear uncomfortable truths than politicians imagine.

Kingsley Amis once argued that a writer’s voice should stay close to his speaking voice: not the same, but close. Adapting that idea, if politicians stayed closer in public debate to the truths that they articulate in casual conversation – some things are impossible; almost every policy creates a losing as well as a winning side; there really isn’t any money – they would be surprised how many people are ready to hear that not all problems can be evaporated into thin air. Stray too far from awkward truths and elections become about simple lies v tricksy lies.

Second, centrists do more harm than good when they rush to categorise dissenting opinion as not only wrong, but unacceptable. “Any suggestion that liberal values are not humanly universal,” as John Gray wrote in a recent NS essay, “will provoke spasms of righteous indignation.” Instead, we need to be more tolerant in our tolerance.

Third, stop pretending that everything desirable can be shoehorned into the “progressive” agenda. “I really care passionately about persevering with the common-sense middle ground and doing it quite well” is a problematic political sales pitch, but not for the reasons that are usually given. The gravest difficulty may come at the beginning, with the faux passion, rather than with the substance – public service and competence – underneath.

It is revealing that those closest to David Cameron expended so much energy trying to persuade us that he was not an updated version of Harold Macmillan. That is why the gay marriage reforms, though admirable, were accorded too much significance. Ah, Cameron was a natural crusader! But he paid a price for dressing up as a “radical” when greater challenges arrived. It weakened some of his strongest cards – calmness, perspective, proportion – just as politics was coarsening. Aren’t Tories supposed to understand the virtues of yesterday? In other words, as an electoral strategy to beat Trump (or Nigel Farage), I’d put up a Macmillan type over a Clinton type every time.

Fourth, cut ties with “messaging experts”. It’s a fraud. They teach that everything must be asserted with powerful conviction. Yet ideas unworthy of powerful conviction are best left shorn of them. The electorate has endured a communications version of crying wolf. As a result of the messaging game, when something genuinely important crops up, it sounds simply like the same old shtick.

Fifth, ditch the bogus quantification. Few things signal untrustworthiness more reliably than fake precision. Something shifted in me when George Osborne argued that Brexit would leave households £4,300 worse off. What, no decimal point? Voters understand uncertainty better than politicians imagine. Precise quantification used to sound professional. Now it sounds suspicious.

Finally, think about tone. Conventional wisdom holds that the mainstream must fight the Trumpian revolution on its own terms: a simple solution, memorably expressed, a guiding vision for the country or the world. If anyone has a good one to hand, I’m all for it. But what if – after decades of ­sophisticated argument and counterargument, as politics has solved the easy problems while parking the difficult or insoluble ones – we have reached a state of such evolved equilibrium that no such easy answer can exist?

Pretending otherwise is no longer a point of difference. It takes you towards the lowest common denominator. As Trump has shown, that is well-occupied territory. Perhaps wooing the angry mob is not the solution. Instead, the admirable and successful politician of the future will have to win back the support of moderate, sensible but disillusioned voters. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage