Two Tory MPs are on the brink of defecting to the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage told the Independent this morning. He may or may not be bluffing, or course.
The UKIP leader spoke after a recent survey put his outfit on 11%, the same degree of backing as the Liberal Democrats now enjoy. That result may or may not represent at rogue poll.
But what can be said for certain is that UKIP secured over 900,000 votes in 2010. By way of comparison, remember that in the 15 years that the far left has been challenging the Labour Party, through one vehicle or another, it has not reached six figure territory.
The arrival of a substantial force to the right of the Conservatives – and one that is credibly able to threaten to contest every seat at the next general election – is a completely new departure in British politics.
For over a century, the Tories have hegemonised the entire political space from where Liberalism leaves off to the old school authoritarian imperialist right, leaving only marginalised overtly fascist forces outside the tent.
Now, for the first time ever, they are having to fight for some of that turf. In so far as the casual outside observer can judge, that struggle is causing internal tension, with some activists advocating a return to Nasty Party ways in order to retain this slice of the core vote.
It is tempting for the left to sit back and watch the show. After all, anything that damages the Conservative Party just has to be good for our side, right? It’s a pity they can’t both lose.
But spare a thought for where a battle that will inevitably be fought on the terrain of Europe, immigration, small government and selective education might drag the centre of gravity in British political debate.
It is not as if Labour has a leadership that can be depended upon to hold the line on social democratic basics, and it may even be inclined to join a Dutch auction on some of these issues if it is perceived that the median voter is shifting to the right.
Not every exasperated Daily Mail reader can sensibly be portrayed as another Nigel Farage, of course. But there is a particle of Nigel Farage lodged in every exasperated Daily Mail reader.