An interesting (and concerning) poll in Conservative Home this week reveals that more Conservative supporters would prefer David Cameron to enter into a future coalition with the Liberal Democrats (again) rather than UKIP.
Paul Goodman breaks down the detail:
- Liberal Democrats – 73 per cent. This finding may be a proof that familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt. To some degree it reflects the fact that Tories have simply got used to working with the LibDems. It is also a tribute, in its own way, to the staying power of the Coalition: I put my hand up to not having expected it to last all the way to the end.
- UKIP – 49 per cent. Some members will see UKIP as a natural partner for the Party. Others won’t, but will believe that differences can be fudged. Others still, as with the Liberal Democrats, will feel that coalition is a price worth paying to keep a Conservative-led administration in office: in some cases, respondents will have selected both options.
What does it say about the modern Conservative Party and the mindset of its supporters, that they would prefer to enter into coalition with a party that is rabidly pro-EU and in favour of an ever-expanding public sector funded through ever-increasing tax bills on the successful, rather than UKIP, the party which (just about) believes in smaller government, lower and flatter taxes, personal responsibility, a stronger military and secession from the European Union?
The answer, of course, it that it says nothing good at all.
The fact is that some Conservatives have quite enjoyed having Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats as bedfellows for the past five years – the coalition has helped the wet Tories to cover their left flank, giving the party a plausible excuse for making little progress on shrinking the size of the state and zero progress on reclaiming power and sovereignty back from the EU.
But if the current course of the 2015 general election campaign tells us anything, it is that the bland centrism that characterises the modern Labour and Conservative parties is increasingly unattractive to voters. True, the smaller parties are seeing some shrinkage in their support as polling day nears, but we remain on course to see the largest ever number and percentage of national votes cast for parties outside the big three.
Whether left or right wing, people are finally getting tired of seeing their core convictions (be it trade union solidarity and income redistribution on the left, or personal liberty and small government on the right) bartered away in pursuit of ineffectual policies calculated to cause minimal offence to anyone.
Yes, the Tories still have work to do in order to detoxify their brand. But the answer is not for them to dress up in Labour Party clothing and bang on endlessly about the importance of public services and “our NHS”. Such an approach will never work – it has been tested to destruction by David Cameron and George Osborne, and has convinced no one.
To move to the left is to sidestep the issue and avoid the hard work detoxifying conservatism in Britain, when what is needed most is patient explanation and passionate promotion of the idea that small government and less state (and EU) interference in our lives would be something to celebrate, not to fear.
Here is an interesting – and different – way to frame the question to Tory activists and the Conservative Party leadership. Rather than simply asking whether they would prefer the devil they know or the devil they don’t when choosing a future coalition partner, let’s ask which of these UKIP policies and ideas have suddenly become so offensive to the modern Conservative Party that they would sooner jump back into bed with Nick Clegg than with Nigel Farage:
- A stronger military, expressed by a commitment to continue meeting the 2% of GDP minimum spending target set by NATO
- A simpler, flatter tax structure
- A smaller government, with less than 52% of British citizens as net dependants on state benefits and services
- The reassertion of the continued relevance of the nation state, expressed by a rejection of the European Union and the holding of an immediate in-out referendum
Sadly we already know many of their answers, and they give us very little hope for the immediate future of British conservatism.