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Farage’s defeat-courting Tory deal

farage in dustbinIn an announcement that caught no one on the hop, Nigel Farage has announced that his clutch of UKIP MPs would happily prop up a minority Conservative government if it concedes a referendum on EU membership by Christmas. I can’t see that happening myself for all kinds of practical reasons (no time for Dave’s EU renegotiation strategy to kick in for starters), but the Tories have shown no compunction whatsoever in sacrificing the wider interests of their class for perceived short-term political advantage.

Having spent a week successfully toxifying the UKIP brand (and then backpedaling), NF makes no further suggestions that won’t help his cause. The referendum question should be fixed along the lines of “do you wish to be a free, independent sovereign democracy?” and, with a logic that could cost the Tories dear should it become widely known, Farage would like to see four million EU citizens barred from voting in it. I doubt he will be so squeamish when it comes to the legions of retirees domiciled in Spain.

The question remains whether Farage will ever be in a position to to deliver. Annoying, and contrary to my predictions, it’s looking like NF might find himself returned to Parliament. Yet will it be him and Carswell; him, Carswell, and Reckless; or that bunch and another clutch of cronies? We’ll see. This announcement, however, could have a bearing on the outcome. In one sense, it does mark Farage out as different from the other party leaders. When there is prevarication and question-dodging over who will play footsie with who after the election, UKIP have put down a clear marker. As ever, like him or loathe him, you know exactly where he stands.

More likely, however, is a net negative effect. More recent UKIP recruits may have fallen from the decomposition of the Tories, so Farage has moved to keep that coalition of voters on board by reassuring them they can still vote UKIP and get the Conservatives. More problematic is the core, so-called statement voters and members. A great many of these were picked up during Labour’s 13 years in power. They don’t like immigrants and find the world a scary, hostile place; but there’s a reason their efforts and votes bypassed the Tories: they hate them. The more Farage bangs on about his intentions, the easier it is for Labour supporters to swoop in and play on residual anti-Tory feeling. To be honest, it’s a gift to our doorstep toolkit.

It’s also something of a headache for Dave and the Tories too. The more the party makes hay with Alex Salmond, who they might be surprised to learn isn’t a household name in England and Wales, the more the spotlight falls on their would-be UKIP enablers. The problem for them is this. There are a layer of Tory activists and voters who despise the Nigel Farage fan club. These, as you might expect, are mostly found on the more moderate wing of the centre right political spectrum. For them UKIP is a reminder of Conservative ghouls past they’d rather not be associated with. They do not feel represented by them and find their platform as a whole rather distasteful. The question then become one of ‘vote Tory, get UKIP’. The idea of being held to ransom by Farage is not a palatable one, and will, of course, helpfully crop up in conversation between Labour supporters and wavering Tory voters between now and polling day.

Negative campaigning is said to have a marginal impact, but in an election that is wide open in ways none other has been, Farage’s remarks could scotch his hopes of becoming kingmaker.

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