We are the masters now? Photo: Getty
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The Tories and UKIP are preparing to work together

The Conservatives are getting ready for another coalition - this time with Ukip.

Yesterday, the Tory PPC in my constituency joined Ukip. Today, a prominent Tory in Thurrock has announced they are backing Ukip. These latest humiliations are a further sign that even the Tories know David Cameron cannot win a majority, but also that the two parties are slowly becoming an alliance of people as well as policy.

David Cameron has failed to shoot Ukip’s fox, as was once his target, and now craves their support. He has gone from calling Nigel Farage’s band a party of “fruitcakes loonies and closet racists” to yesterday saying that his party was the natural “home” for Ukip supporters.

Such has been David Cameron’s capitulation to Ukip that he has not only promised a referendum he once argued against, giving up our national influence overseas on the way, but he is now preparing to work with Ukip after the election.

David Cameron, George Osborne and a host of Tory Cabinet Ministers have repeatedly been asked to rule out working with Ukip after the election, but have refused to do so.

And despite their denials, the terms of a deal have been set. Nigel Farage has said he wants an early in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in exchange for supporting the Tories, something David Cameron has said he would be “delighted” to offer.

There is also now a growing number of Conservative MPs calling for a deal with UKIP - alongside the two who have already crossed the floor - and even greater support amongst grassroots Conservatives, with reports that almost half of Conservative activists want David Cameron to forge some sort of alliance before the election.

Indeed, the desire for a deal is so strong that some Tories are reportedly already striking deals with Ukip up and down the country in key marginals.

But just imagine what would happen if the Tories went in to partnership with Ukip.

Ukip have signed up to the Tories’ extreme spending plans, which cut spending on public services faster in the next three years than the past five, putting the NHS at risk.

Ukip also want to go further in privatisating of the NHS. The Tories’ have opened the door to increased privatisation, with private providers now securing a third of  contracts to provide clinical services, but Nigel Farage wants to break up the NHS altogether with an “insurance-based system”.

Both parties also favour further tax breaks for those at the top, while working people’s wages remain £1,600-a-year below 2010 levels. Ukip’s plans would give 16,000 millionaires over £100,000 in tax breaks, something George Osborne would no doubt relish.

This agenda jars with families in my constituency in Yorkshire, those reading this in the Capital, or any other part of the UK.

While Ukip and the Tories see raiding each others’ activists as their greatest hope for progress, Labour is offering a better plan for a better future, based on increased living standards for all , saving and transforming our NHS and support for the next generation.

David Cameron must now come clean about his plans to do a deal with Ukip. Neither party stands up for working people. Together they would do deep damage to our living standards and the services on which we rely.

Alan Johnson is a former home secretary and MP for Hull West and Hessle.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.