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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.