I’ve known Dan Hannan since 1991. He’s a hardcore, paid up, all-singing, all-dancing Eurosceptic. No question about that. It’s the key issue in politics for him. There’s only one problem. In the Daily Telegraph yesterday he admitted that David Cameron isn’t a Eurosceptic. But Dan supports him and his Lib Dem-infested government all the same.
Dan is characteristically gung-ho in crediting David Cameron for delivering on EU promises. Is that confidence justified? There’s the famous “cast iron guarantee” of a referendum which Mr. Cameron gave in 2007, only to withdraw the pledge two years later.
In 2011 the Prime Minister whipped his MPs to vote down proposals for an EU referendum. Only sixteen months later he did another U-turn and promised an EU referendum, but added that it would take place in four years’ time. In other words, by then his successor will have to carry the can for abandoning the commitment.
In recent scribblings Dan has re-iterated his respect for his leader, while accepting that such love is not reciprocated. Why did Dan feel the need to deny any plans to join UKIP?
This brings us to the question of pacts. I spoke last year at a Bow Group event on this subject, drawing attention to the numerous practical and electoral pitfalls. It’s quite possible that a UKIP pact could help save the Conservative Party’s bacon. But why should UKIP care about that? UKIP was not founded to help the Conservative Party win elections. Above all, the Westminster bubble is starting to learn that Ukippers aren’t all ex-Tories and that UKIP support has grown rapidly in recent years in parts of the country which haven’t elected a Conservative MP in decades.
True Conservatives talk a lot about choice and freedom. It’s bizarre to hear libertarians espousing a denial of choice to the voters by promoting a back-room pact which could only result in fewer candidates being offered. The logic just isn’t there. Molotov and Von Ribbentrop would have blushed before endorsing such an unholy alliance.
The truth, which Dan accepts, is that UKIP has put down roots as a Party and has been carefully building up its councillor base, membership, donor base and campaign firepower. Over the last four years it has become a fully-fledged Party, much greater in stature than its original pressure group and debating club feel. For Dan this represents a failure by UKIP. Far from it: the Party is winning elections. That’s what successful Parties do. There’s much more to come.
There is a deeper paradox which Dan Hannan and a clutch of other like-minded politicians in the Conservative and Labour parties face. These people have campaigned tirelessly against European integration and uncontrolled immigration. They support British withdrawal from the EU. So why do they continue to oppose the only significant Party in Britain which supports their views?
Roger Bird is General Secretary of UKIP