The Conservative Party sits dazed, confused and undecided, at a crossroads. Despite pulling the decimated British economy from the ashes, the Party is on course to come third in the European Elections this month. In the last ten years it has surrendered both the leadership of the British conservative movement and the popular vote.
The modernisation project failed, but there are calls to restart it because it never went far enough, on the other side of the party there are calls to re-embrace conservatism, and retake the initiative and leadership of the conservative movement.
By my assessment, if the Conservative Party recaptures the conservative initiative we’ll be back to 200,000 members in 5 years, if we recapture the moderniser’s liberal initiative we’ll be down to 50,000 members in 5 years, and overtaken by UKIP.
If you don’t agree with me I’d suggest you look at the rate the Liberals are losing members and voters and UKIP are gaining them
Many Senior Conservatives and the commentators that flank them are STILL blindly trying to play the line that UKIP is a minor party beneath their attentions, it’s a stance that becomes difficult to justify when the cold hard reality of elections roll around. UKIP is not only here to stay, it is now the authentic home to Britain’s conservative movement.
From a Conservative Party point of view, the problem with UKIP is threefold. They aren’t going to fade away whatever the Conservative Party does, they have a greater claim to conservatism in policy terms, and genuine conservatives struggle to view them with enmity.
To those genuine conservatives, not only have UKIP not damaged the Conservative Party, they are saving it. Without UKIP the Conservative Party would be an ideological province of the Liberal Democrats, and conservatism wouldn’t just be under threat in the Conservative Party, but the country as a whole. The only threat UKIP pose to conservatism is to split the conservative vote and allow Ed Miliband into power.
Conservatives should therefore have no interest in destroying UKIP, now or in the future, but a great deal in finding a way to work together. For a party that is currently in coalition with a supposed outright ideological foe, the notion of a pre 2015 pact with UKIP would seem a small price to pay to dramatically increase the chances of Conservative majority.
Most psephologists agree that without a game changing turn, it will be almost impossible for the Conservative Party to secure a clear majority in 2015, and equally difficult for UKIP to return any MPs.
Any agreement has of course been firmly ruled out by David Cameron however, and the central Conservative Party machine continues to do whatever it can to stymie relations between the two parties.
UKIP have expressed greater interest in an electoral arrangement, but won’t risk being left at the altar.
In light of the consistent support of roughly a third of party members for such a pact the reticence of party leaders need not be the final word. If they cannot put their egos to one side to secure a parliamentary majority of conservatives and keep Ed Miliband from power, the members and voters can.
It is in this spirit that I joined forces with Toby Young, James Delingpole and Raheem Kassam last year to set up a campaign entitled Countryb4party.
The campaign intends to approach a pact between the two parties from a bottom up, rather than top down perspective in the run up to May 2015. It aims to act more as a psephological advisory website than a formal pact, for voters to indicate in each constituency which candidate, Conservative or UKIP, has a better chance of defeating Labour and the Lib Dems.
It also intends to advise on the candidates conservative credentials and offer a system of proxy vote swapping from safe Labour and Lib Dem seats to key marginals.
When I detailed these plans to Nigel Farage some months ago, he was open to any idea of a voter or constituency led plan, but asked what was in it for UKIP? – The answer is simple: a much better chance of returning at least one MP to Parliament. For Conservative Party members and voters it offers the best chance at a Conservative majority, but also for those tempted by UKIP, the chance to support both parties whilst keeping Ed Milliband from the corridors of power.
For genuine conservatives it should be a tempting proposal, but like any campaign it will rely on the support of volunteers and donors to succeed.
If successful the implications stretch beyond 2015, a united right would not only be an irresistible political force electorally, but would also see the un-restrained united conservative policies of both UKIP & the Conservative Party finally return to Parliament. That effort can begin with this campaign.
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Ben Harris-Quinney is the Chairman of the @bowgroup and the Director of @torygrassroots. He tweets @B_HQ