With only a month to go until polls open for the 2015 general election, the smart money is saying that Nigel Farage’s insurgent party, UKIP, are on the back foot.
A growing number of articles and opinion pieces are talking down UKIP’s prospects, citing poll results which point to a decline in UKIP’s level of support from recent highs of 20% back down to the mid teens, and even speculating that Nigel Farage could fail to win his seat of South Thanet and be forced to follow through on his plan to resign the party leadership if he does not become an MP.
Finally sensing weakness after months on the back foot, the Conservative Party have pounced with David Cameron using an interview on the Tory battle bus to appeal to disaffected former Conservative Party voters to “come home” and abandon their new allegiance to UKIP.
From the Telegraph’s interview with David Cameron:
Asked if he believes Ukip defectors are finally returning to the Tories, Mr Cameron says: “A little. I think that is beginning to happen. There are people who have been frustrated about wanting more changes on immigration, wanting more certainty about the situation in Europe and they can now see that we have listened to those concerns. The referendum is now there, as it were, on the ballot paper if I’m prime minister before the end of 2017.
They can see the tougher approach we’ve taken to immigration. They can see the changes we’ve made. And I think it’s the time for Conservative voters who went off to Ukip – it’s the time to come home. On the basis that the real choice in this election is economic mayhem and chaos under Ed Miliband, possibly backed up by Nicola Sturgeon, or the certainty of continued competence and growth under the Conservatives.
“This election is about choosing a government. It’s not a moment of protest. It’s not a moment to send a message. Those times are over.
“I would say to those voters who have concerns – message received and understood. Now please, come on, let’s get together and take the country forward and avert the danger of a Labour government.”
This is more than a little patronising.
In calling for UKIP supporters to “come on, let’s get together ” for the good of the country, David Cameron is treating those who have defected from the Conservative Party like hysterical children who have thrown a tantrum for no good reason, and who can be coaxed back into quiet calm with a few soothing words. And for what?
What concrete steps has the Conservative Party taken to reach out to formerly loyal voters who have been tempted to join the UKIP revolution? What policies have been reversed, or what new commitments have been made?
David Cameron insists that Conservative/UKIP wavering voters “can now see that we have listened to those concerns” over immigration and Britain’s membership of the European Union. But while the Conservatives may have listened, it is far less clear that they have done anything with the information.
The Conservatives went into the last election in 2010 promising to reduce immigration to the “tens of thousands”, despite knowing full well that Britain does not have control over the levers needed to achieve this target. In 2015, it is a struggle to find any mention of immigration on the Conservative Party website, but buried deep are these vague promises, almost as toothless as those proposed by Ed Miliband and the Labour Party:
- Clamping down on benefits tourism and health tourism – so that we only welcome those who want to work hard and contribute to our society
- Cracking down on abuse of the immigration system by closing bogus colleges and making it much tougher for illegal immigrants to remain in the UK by restricting access to work, housing, benefits, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licences
- Introducing a new citizen test with British values at its heart
This is all well and good, but most immigrants do not come to Britain to claim benefits or exploit the NHS. David Cameron is tinkering around the edges of the issue because he is desperate not to admit his impotence in controlling the number of people allowed to enter the country and settle here, one of the basic functions of a normal nation state.
None of this is to say that immigration is bad, or necessarily too high – this blog is on the record believing that immigration is a net positive, though its benefits are certainly not felt by everyone in Britain. But for David Cameron and the Conservative Party to sit back in the expectation that recently defected ex-Tories will come meekly creeping back from UKIP just because the Tories are struggling to beat Labour is incredibly presumptuous, bordering on rude.
The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman agrees:
The trouble with the phrase ‘come home’ is that it contais a rather complacent assumption that voters have a natural home and that that home is the Conservatibe party, rather than the party having to compete for votes. This assumption about people ‘belonging’ to a party led to voters turning from the Tories to Ukip, and has led to Labour thrashing around in panic in Scotland as it realises that it’s voters aren’t its voters any more.
UKIP supporters, like all British voters, have heard these pledges and promises – to crack down on this or hold a referendum on that – before. And their experience tells them that when it comes to prioritising in government, manifesto pledges are swept aside, and “cast iron guarantees” are ignored in favour of political expediency and bland centrism.
The Conservatives can call all they like for disillusioned ex-Tories to return to the Tory fold, and some will undoubtedly listen. But many will not abandon UKIP’s purple banner for David Cameron’s pale, unconvincing promises.