It’s been pretty obvious for some time now, but the fact is that the key to the 2015 General Election lies in the “stickability” of the current support for UKIP. If they poll anything like as well as they did at the local and European elections this year, David Cameron will in all probability be deprived of a majority and in the worst-case scenario a high UKIP poll could send Europhile Ed Miliband into 10 Downing Street. How therefore should the Conservatives address the UKIP threat?
Tacking to the right is not the answer, as it will alienate those voters who see themselves as centre-ground, non-party political animals. However that does not mean that the Conservatives should not talk about those issues which motivate people to vote UKIP most of all: immigration and Europe. We should talk about these issues are they are clearly bothering a significant number of voters. And in fact we have a good story to tell.
On immigration we have slashed non-EU migration and we are repatriating those who are found to have no right to be here. We have stopped Labour’s open door to all comers. True, we have not been able to stem migration from Eastern Europe and that is because we cannot do this without breaking EU law, and we in this country rightly try to obey the rules. However, David Cameron knows full well that if he is re-elected, some radical amendment of the free movement of people rules will be needed if he is to sell his re-negotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU to the public in the 2017 referendum. That referendum will only take place if there is a Conservative government after May 2015. UKIP, for all their promises of an electoral “earthquake” simply can’t deliver this, and it is a pretty odd choice for a Eurosceptic to vote UKIP in a marginal seat which the Conservatives are trying to capture or where we are defending a small majority . That can only help Miliband and Clegg who will not allow any such referendum and will put off “Brexit” for at least 5 more years.
However we need to be positive. We have got the deficit under control. We are reforming welfare to ensure that only those who genuinely need help receive it, and at a level that doesn’t make someone on benefits better off than someone in work. We have set taxation at levels which encourage enterprise and expansion and we are still enjoying historically low interest rates. We are reducing our overseas military commitments without losing Trident or our long-term carrier fleet capability. In Michael Gove we have the best Education Secretary in my lifetime and with the Free Schools initiative and the expansion of Academy status we are making real strides to make up for Labour’s destruction of the state education system. Provided we make a lot of noise about these achievements we will deserve re-election in 2015. And when we hold our EU referendum in 2017, UKIP will become rather irrelevant, whatever the outcome.