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.