Thursday, 19 September 2013

Dave's Dilemmas

"What the hell can the Tories do about UKIP?" asks Iain Martin in this afternoon's Telegraph. What indeed? Their poll ratings have calmed down since Farage-mania gripped the media back in May, but their consistent score of between 10-12% has them ahead of the hapless LibDems. And, unfortunately for the Tories, UKIP voters will not flock to their banner in 2015. Enough will stick with the purples to lay open very many marginal seats. That is, unless, the Tories can pull a bunny out of the hat and win over voters who are presently looking elsewhere.

I just don't think they can do it. Tories who think UKIP's growth lies in its unreconstructed Toryism are falling into the sort of stupid empiricism one would expect from the stupid party. As a populist party they will say and do anything if they think they can get votes. Remember their "libertarianism"? It's kinda vanished with the mist, because opposing the sell off of Royal Mail is popular and idiotic flat tax policies are not. It means combating UKIP is tough because this leopard constantly changes its spots. UKIP is like mercury - fluid, frictionless, and utterly toxic.

The problems of dealing with UKIP are well known. Tack to the centre ground and disgruntled Tory voters will disproportionately stick with Farage. Tack right to try and win them back, swing voters and soft Tories in all likelihood will cast their ballots elsewhere. So what Iain says about CCHQ "looking to expose and exploit Ukip's numerous mistakes and the crazier statements of some of its most senior figures" is all they've got left. He's also right that it won't work - unless its entire front rank are exposed as tax dodgers with unfortunate internet habits. And yes, there are many in UKIP who don't care for the "vote Nigel, get Ed" argument. It's not so much they want to sink the Tories, which they do, but they believe they're on the cusp of replacing them.

Another option theoretically open to the Tories is the offer a positive programme. Yet they immediately run up against a problem. What vision can the party offer post-2015? A Britain floating on yet another house price bubble, stagnating and declining wages, Gove's pub quiz curriculum*, more privatised healthcare, the running down of public services and a bucketload more insecurity and worry does not make for the most appetising of choices. Of course, they won't present it like that. But rerunning their 2010 campaign of nice, liberal Dave is as impossible as it would be insincere. Nor is there anything they can really promise. Three years in and they're politically exhausted. They're tied to a deeply damaging neoliberalism that basically greenlights their rich friends' looting of the economy, and that's it. Their return would merely lock Britain into a death spiral of terminal economic decline.

So outflanked to the right, and with nothing of substance to offer. Not a great position to be in if you want to win a general election. Still, they could point out how much worse Labour would be. However, the Labour of 2015 will be different to the one we have today. For one, it will have substantive policies that offer a real change to the complacency of the Coalition years. And it will be talking about them. By prattling on about "weak Ed" now, the Tories have instructed Labour that a personality contest is a game that can only benefit their poison pen politics and that they are something to be avoided. Should Labour be successful in evading Crosby's gambits and battle the election on the field of policy, the Tories will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

But the Conservatives have always got their record to fall back on. Ah, but it isn't as easy as that. An unseemly bunfight with their erstwhile partners in the yellow party awaits as the parties compete for credit for the pitifully few genuinely progressive and popular policies enacted on their watch.

Incredibly, some paid-for commentators like to portray the 2015 election as "Dave's to lose".

There is only one event that could upset this depressing set of circumstances the Tories face. And that is if Scotland votes for independence next year. At a stroke a solid chunk of Labour seats vanish and the party faces a difficult, but not insurmountable task of winning a majority. The polls are looking decidedly 'no' at the moment. But as referendum day a year hence approaches, there will be more than a few in the Tory Party quietly crossing their fingers and hoping for a yes.

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*Phrase Credit

4 comments:

Speedy said...

As an unpaid commentator, I also think it is his to lose... I think UKIP voters will do what everyone else does - vote tactically. They will have their referendum if the Tories will get in (and most of them don't give a toss about that anyway - they are not libertarians IMHO but Thatcherites).

The HUGE elephant in the GB's room is Scottish independence. The rest of the UK (or rUK as Nats call it) appears to be pretending it ain't happening - there's next to no discussion of the likely consequences of a split.

It's like watching a slow-motion car crash - the rUk won't know what's hit it. Seriously, I think there will be profound national trauma if Scotland goes and i think the polls are misleading - there are many undecideds and it's still all to play for.

Forget the tribalism (to be fair to the Tories) - the rUk will be damaged in terms of prestige and all sorts by loss of Scotland, and in the medium term it could unleash English nationalism, which actually I don't think would be all that bad, but could have severe consequences for the other Celtic nations - the UK has stayed together this far by a mix of self-interest, familiarity and complacency. If the Scots leave (largely because of the oil) what's to stop the English asking - why are we paying for the Welsh and N.Irish? Up until now they've gone along with it, but this could really shake things up.

And imagine an England shorn of the Celtic influence - a tragedy IMHO, but also a quite different place. The Celtish separatists forget that the great triumph of the union was to absorb English nationalism in Britain. They should be careful what they wish for.

I just don't think people are seeing this coming. It's one of those black swans, only in this case a tartan one!

Boffy said...

Phil,

I think many of the UKIP, Tory votes will head back to the Tories in a General Election. The Tories may well also pick up some tactical Liberal votes given that what is left of the Liberal vote now is almost entirely its free market constituency, not the old social democratic constituency, which they have probably lost for good.

That means seats like Eastleigh will be lost by the Liberals and go to the Tories.

The Tories real problem is going to be the economy. On the one hand there is a property bubble. Tory policy is just about stopping it bursting in most of the country, but is threatening to blow it even higher in London. Its going to burst everywhere at some point in the near future.

But, as well as the bubble bursting the economy itself will be a problem. The Tories austerity policy has prevented the economy growing. The current pick up is only the usual 3 year cycle. But, that cycle turned down in 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011 and guess what it ill turn down again in the second half of 2014. The cycle does not necessarily mean a recession, only a slow down, but given the weakness of the economy, and the reliance on pumping up debt once more, it is likely to see the economy tank once more.

A tanking economy, rising inflation, and rising interest rates alongside probably a bursting of asset price bubbles is not going to be a good backdrop for the Tories to fight an election.

Phil said...

Indeed Speedy. All the electoral calculations just assume Scotland's still in play come 2015. I don't think the independence campaign will win, but just assuming it won't and not planning for the consequences smacks of complacency.

Phil said...

I think you could well be right Boffy. The squeeze on wages ensures the high street will not recover any time soon, so we're left with the smoke and mirrors of privatisation and share giveaways from the part-nationalised banks to massage the figures and make it look like productive economic activity is happening.