UKIP and the suicidal spirit of Kilroy
Have you also noticed that most Conservatives tend to give UKIP a high degree of credibility and treat the party with respect? Not all, of course: there is not quite praise and adulation for every member, but there is frequent appreciation of the Party’s principal aim(s) and objective(s), if not of their political strategy. When they speak on immigration, it usually makes sense; when they delve into economics, there is reason; when they talk on education, they strike a traditional Tory chord. The problem, of course, is that their very name identifies them with a single issue - indepedence from Brussels - and the British public tend not to want a pressure group to form a government.
But have you noticed that this respect is never reciprocated? When UKIP refer to Conservatives, there is invariably a sneering contempt and scarcely-concealed loathing in their comments and reports. The Conservatives are ‘traitors’ who ‘betrayed’ the country and ‘deceive’ the electorate. Perhaps some did and do, but it is an irrational prejudice to tarnish an entire movement because of the actions of a few. A prominent and powerful few, no doubt. But a few, nonetheless, who have led and still lead a party of patriots, not traitors. Such language brings to mind the speech made by Robert Kilroy Silk when he joined UKIP’s ranks: the UKIP objective, he proclaimed, was to kill the Tories. He said back in 2004 that the Conservative Party was redundant and dying: “Why would you want to give it the kiss of life?" he asked. "What we want to do is kill and replace it. That is our destiny."
Sadly, for Him, others didn’t share his teleological interpretation of the political apocalypse. Nigel Farage didn’t wish to surrender the leadership and so Mr Kilroy Silk waltzed off in a hissy fit because he couldn’t get his hands on the crown. And it’s a crown that rests uneasily upon any other head.
Of course, some Conservatives treat UKIP as a bunch of lightweights, dilettantes, gadflies, eccentrics and closet racists. Even their own founder, Dr Alan Sked, has been scathing about his erstwhile colleagues and has not infrequently advised the public to be grown-up and vote Conservative. But how many members of UKIP are able to grasp that their only hope of achieving their ultimate objective is to re-join the ranks of the Conservative Party? There are quite a few Conservative members (even a majority) who favour total withdrawal from the European Union, and want a referendum. And those who do not certainly want a fundamental renegotiation of that ‘relationship’, the very proposal which enabled many of the 81 Conservatives to rebel against their party whip a few weeks ago. Withdrawal or renegotiation clearly attract a majority of Conservative Party members and a not insignificant minority of Conservative MPs. The reason UKIP scored 16 per cent in the last euro election is because that campaign is gradually becoming a referendum on EU membership: it is the one election when Britons feel they are voting on Britain's ‘relationship with Europe’. It is not (yet) the case that disaffected Conservatives are anywhere near to giving UKIP their first MP, but it is undeniable that the difference between a creditable Conservative result and a good one is the extent to which UKIP can lure eurosceptic voters who would normally support the Conservatives.
Nigel Farage, a ‘true Conservative’, has often said that the function of UKIP is to be the conscience of the Conservative Party. This is nonsense, for a conscience is consubstantial with the carnal: it is not a separate and divided entity, poking and prodding, carping and criticising from beyond the body; it is one and indivisible. According to James Delingpole, “The moment the Conservatives start behaving like proper Conservatives again — Eurosceptical, small government, low tax, etc — that’ll be it. Most of the 7 per cent of voters who are currently Ukip’s will be straight back into the Tory fold and we’ll have a proper, Thatcherite government again doing the Lord’s work.”
Dellers is deluded if he thinks this is how politics works: the Conservatives will only ‘start behaving like proper Conservatives again’ when the right arm, the right hand and the right foot cease their childish bid for corporeal independence and decide to reacquaint themselves with their equal and opposite limbs. We are one body. If the right foot should say, “Because the left hand will not scratch my itch, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the right ear should say, “Because the left eye will not see as I hear, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were a right eye, where would the left sense of hearing be? If the whole body were a right ear, where would the right sense of smell be? But in fact history has placed the parts in the Conservative body, every one of them, just as it ought to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The right eye cannot say to the left hand, “I don’t need you!” And similarly the head cannot say to the left foot, “I’d rather have a LibDem prosthesis than you!” On the contrary, those left parts of the body that seem to be ideologically weaker than the right are indispensable, and the parts that the right thinks are less honourable should be treated with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable should be treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. History/Burke/God put the Conservative Party together, occasionally giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
UKIP should not treat the Conservative Party with contempt, but acknowledge it as part of the same body. The party has been a broad church coalition since its inception, and it veers from left to right in accordance with the character disposition of its leader. The departure of the Whiggish arm leaves the Tory body weakened, rather like the Pope’s Ordinariate drawing traditionalists out of the Church of England. Of course these digits and limbs have to be free to amputate and extricate themselves, but there is no doubt as they depart that the fulcrum of the via media shifts: equilibrium becomes disproportionately weighted; balance turns to imbalance.
Most UKIP activists are fully aware that they will never form a government: they want only to hold a dagger at the throat of the Conservatives, and some are desperate for a kill. They do not seek negotiation or reasoned compromise; their pathology yearns for blood. The spirit of Kilroy moves among them, for even if they were offered an electoral pact, they would decline it, referring to David Cameron’s ‘cast-iron guarantee’ with the refrain ‘you can’t trust a Tory’. And so they plough on with their principled conservative position, oblivious to the fact that they need to persuade and form a coalition with lesser-principled Conservatives to achieve their desired outcome. They won’t, of course, because they have become entrenched in visceral hatred and loathing for the rest of their erstwhile body. They are content to swing 5-10 per cent of the electorate for a symbolic poll result, rather than rejoin local Conservative associations, get elected on to executive bodies and vote for eurosceptic officers who will hold their parliamentary representatives to account. But that’s too much like hard work.
Every percentage point swing away from the Conservatives is sufficient to hand some of their MPs notice of redundancy. 7 per cent will hand rather more their P45s. 16 per cent is electoral oblivion for them and perpetual power to the Europhiles. It is one thing to be principled to agitate, but without the capacity for compromise and coalition, there can be no power. Without power, one can never effect change. UKIP should exorcise the spirit of Kilroy and rediscover its Conservative roots: it is not too late to re-attach a few chilled limbs to the life-giving warmth of the body. We are nearing that time when the right hand, right eye and right foot will be vindicated. If the super-objective is to address the issue of European Union, don’t waste time trying to kill the Conservative Party: it is immortal because, from time to time, it still beats with the conservative heart of the British people.