Posted on July 30, 2013

Here’s How the Tories Want to Stop Ukip. And It’s Not Pretty

Tim Wigmore, Telegraph (London), July 25, 2013

Nigel Farage criticised the Conservatives as “nasty, unpleasant” and “big brother” this morning. Nothing surprising in that–except that he was talking about immigration policy.

The Conservatives unveiled their master plan for stopping Ukip winning next year’s elections this week. That’s not what they called it, of course, but how else can you view the Home Office pilot scheme aiming to tackle illegal immigration?

It’s ugly stuff. Vans with giant billboards, featuring the slogan “go home or face arrest” are being driven around London. By texting “HOME”, illegal immigrants are treated to “free advice, and help with travel documents.” Vans are currently touring Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge highlighting how many illegal immigrants have been arrested in the areas. It is a way of fusing Lynton Crosby’s advice–to focus relentlessly on core concerns including immigration–with calls for “white van conservatism” to hone the Tory appeal to the working class.

It is also Mitt Romney’s solution to illegal immigration in America–“self-deportation”–by another name. If you don’t hand yourself in, your neighbours might do the job instead.

When Farage says “What the billboards should say is please don’t vote Ukip, we’re doing something. That’s what it’s all about, of course,” it is hard to disagree. The European elections are coming next year and a Ukip victory would be disastrous for Dave. It would give Ukip new momentum less than a year before the general election, leading to an increase in party donations and renewed vigour from the party footsoldiers–at a time when 44 per cent of Conservative members spend no time on party activity in an average month. If Ukip use European election victory as a base to get six per cent or more at the general election, Dave will have plenty of time to chillax in political retirement.

Lynton Crosby is focussing on immigration as a way to stop that. A simple technical change to the voting in the European elections could be another. It sounds boring–but could be the Tories’ best answer to Ukip yet. A new LSE study suggests that the Conservatives could achieve a five per cent gain–and Ukip a six per cent fall–at a legislative stroke. Changing from a closed-list to an open-list voting system, allowing voters to choose specific Conservative candidates who matched their Euroscepticism, might be enough to keep the Tories ahead of Ukip next year.

It might seem a desperate solution to the Ukip problem. But, as the van campaign reminds us, little seems out of bounds to Conservatives when the target is Nigel Farage.