A pact with the people – not with UKIP
Michael Fabricant MP
An urgent call to end the Coalition before it?s too late.
The European Election results make grim reading for the Coalition, but this should be no surprise. Eighteen months ago, In November 2012, I did something that many in the Conservative Party were thinking, but didn?t dare say. As Vice Chairman of the Party, I suggested an electoral Pact with UKIP in anticipation of their growing popularity. And now, immediately following the Euro-elections, some have floated that idea again.
The Pact was a straight forward deal: to give UKIP their in-out referendum on the EU in exchange for not standing against Conservative candidates in the General Election. A straight deal. A Pact.
I wrote a report* which demonstrated how as many as 50 seats could be lost by UKIP shaving off the Conservative vote and stalling an overall Conservative majority. When I published the report, I was still Vice Chairman of the Party in charge of Parliamentary Campaigning and I made my suggestion in good faith driven through frustration with the complacency that then pervaded Number 10 and Conservative Campaign HQ regarding the UKIP threat.
What UKIP promised on Europe was tempting to many of our own voters. In the winter of 2012, the Eurozone crisis was raging on, the economic outlook was bleak, and patience with the established parties on the European issue was at breaking point. My argument was strong enough to kick-start debate in the Conservative Party and to begin a process that will now continue until 2017 when, after all, a Conservative Government ? if elected ? is irrevocably committed to deliver an In/Out EU Referendum.
Back in 2012, did I realistically think the Pact with UKIP would be adopted as policy? No. I did not. Indeed, I was not even sure that UKIP with their bottom up organisation could even have delivered on such a deal. But the debate needed to be had and I?m glad that I was the one who initiated it.
But times have now changed. Just a couple of months on from my discussion paper, the Prime Minister delivered his speech at Bloomberg promising an In-Out Referendum in 2017 giving time to conclude renegotiations with our European partners. This changed the mood music completely and every nation of the EU has taken note of this change and the very real risks to the EU if they are not flexible with the UK?s unique position.
That speech alone dealt a profound blow to the basis of a Pact with UKIP.
And UKIP has changed too. Their messaging and policy platform have widened considerably making a Pact now impossible and undesirable. If the Pact were pursued today, it would have to be a full coalition of two parties in advance of an election with as many differences as those that currently exist between the Conservatives and the Liberal-Democrats. Yet it would be with a Party not having a single MP to its name. Clearly a nonsense.
Times have moved on. The economic news has changed everything; the long term plan of the coalition has worked and the fight is there to be had in May 2015. No Pact, just a straight fight for government and that includes taking on UKIP.
Yet despite all that, UKIP have been the only winners in Thursday?s elections; UKIP?s potential attractiveness hasn?t changed. Even in Lichfield in the Euro elections, they beat the Conservatives into a close 2nd place. Of course, it was mainly a protest vote and on a low national turnout, but Nigel Farage remains a hugely impressive performer whose charisma clearly reaches out. We dare not underestimate that effect come May 2015 ? or, indeed, in the Newark by-election next week.
So what to do about it?
Firstly, we need to take on UKIP?s messaging and treat them as a proper political party and not merely as some odd pressure group to be demonised as we have done up to now. Despite Nigel Farage announcing on Monday that he will be changing the structure of the party and appointing spokesmen on areas like health and education, people understand that for all his charm, Farage will not become Prime Minister. For that reason alone, the fight needs to be on policy and not on presentation; on who can deliver and who can govern for Britain. And, indeed, which Party can deliver that all important In-Out Referendum.
But that is unlikely to be enough. Despite all its successes in the economy and elsewhere, the electorate regard the Coalition as a cynical and joyless marriage of convenience – as evidenced by what Theresa May has recently called ?heated? discussions with the Lib-Dems over immigration controls.
It reinforces the feeling of disconnect between the Government and the governed; it confirms the perception that the major parties ?just don?t get it?, all of which has served to drive up the popularity of UKIP.
There is only one solution to this if only Number 10 has the raw courage to seize it and abandon their comfort zone.
On June 4th, H.M. the Queen will announce a programme of legislation agreed by the Coalition partners. I believe that in the days that follow, the Coalition should be terminated and the Conservatives establish a minority Government replacing Liberal-Democrat ministers with Conservative ones. If we do not, the consequences could be dire.
It is in the urgent interests of both the Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats that there be time to re-establish their respective brands before the General Election on May 7th, 2015. Time is melting away.
But the break-up of the Coalition won?t be enough unless the opportunity is taken to promote attractive Conservative policies as well as those previously agreed by the Conservatives and Lib-Dems in Coalition. And if those Conservative policies are opposed by Labour and the Liberal-Democrats combined, so be it. Political brand differentiation will have been established in stark clarity.
Would a minority government survive? I believe it would. The Liberal-Democrats were humiliated in the Euro elections and the evidence suggests that they would do far worse in an early General Election. Turkeys never vote for Christmas and it would be in their interest to support a minority Conservative Government in the event of any Labour vote of no confidence.
I know that many Liberal-Democrat MPs share this view too and their urgent need to re-establish their own brand. If Nick Clegg won?t move with the times, he himself might be moved as dissatisfaction with him grows amongst his MPs and grass roots supporters.
The UKIP Pact idea is well and truly dead. But now is the time to rebuild a Pact with the People and form a minority Conservative Government. Before it is too late.
* The Pact can be downloaded here
The Daily Telegraph article can also be read here