There’s a special election in the British town of Eastleigh today. Best guess is that the (dreadful and europhile) Liberal Democrats will retain the seat, helped by right-leaning voters splitting their votes between the euroskeptics of UKIP and the Conservatives (Labour is doing dismally). By all accounts, UKIP has fought a strong campaign, but another best guess is that the Tories will still finish ahead of them, but in second place.
So what are Chihuahuas (Conservatives In their Heads UKIP At Heart) to do? Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Toby Young makes the case for the Tories:
[T]here are still plenty of good reasons to stick with the Tories. On schools and welfare reform, this government is still pursuing vigorous, Conservative policies, largely free of Lib Dem interference. The income tax bills of more than 20 million people have been cut and over two million of our lowest earners have been taken out of tax altogether. Admittedly, progress on cutting the deficit has been slow, but Public Sector Net Borrowing was still 24 per cent lower in 2011/12 (£121.5 billion) than it was in 2009/10 (£159 billion). It’s heading in the right direction.
But even if you regard the Coalition government as a huge disappointment, I would still urge you to vote for Maria Hutchings. Why? Because she feels the same way we do about the biggest issue facing this country – Britain’s relationship with the EU. She has signed the People’s Pledge – that is, she is committed to voting for an in/out EU referendum – and she has said that if a referendum was held tomorrow she’d vote to leave. I acknowledge that this falls short of a cast iron commitment to exiting the EU. She’s not prepared to go further than that because she doesn’t want to rule out the possibility that the Prime Minister could secure much more favourable membership terms in the run up to the referendum, assuming he’s re-elected. But you and I know that a new settlement in which various powers are repatriated from Brussels to Westminster is unlikely, in which case she’ll simply vote “out”.
Now, if there was a chance that Diane James, the Ukip candidate, could win tomorrow that might be a reason for voting for her. But there isn’t. Today, on the last day of the campaign, the odds of Ukip winning the seat according to the bookmakers are 8-1. That means that the only effect voting Ukip will have is to hand the seat to Mike Thornton, the Lib Dem candidate. That’s the choice you face: vote Conservative or vote Lib Dem. Pro-referendum or anti-referendum. In Eastleigh, a vote for Ukip is a vote for the Lib Dems. The question you have to ask yourself is, “What’s more important? Giving David Cameron a bloody nose or restoring Britain’s national sovereignty?” It’s no contest. However tempted you are to use your vote to protest against the party’s “modernisation”, this is not the time for gesture politics. An opportunity to restore our autonomy as an independent state is at hand. We mustn’t squander it.
Oh come on. As something based on not one, but two, implausible premises (a Tory victory in 2015, and a ‘real’ renegotiation of British membership of its EU membership) David Cameron’s promise of an EU referendum is not one that can be taken too seriously by anyone who wants the UK out of the EU. More to the point, that’s not what up for a vote today.
So what to do? Don’t get me wrong. My general rule is to vote for the least objectionable candidate with a chance of winning. That points to the Conservatives. But that’s not what I’d do this time. A Conservative government would be far better than the Labour or a Liberal Democratic alternatives, but that’s not what’s at stake here. This is a special election, not a general election, and that makes it an ideal opportunity to send a message to the Tories that they have to change. Yes, there is quite a bit that the Conservatives have got right (Toby Young mentions a couple of them), but there is also a great deal that they have got wrong, from what is still an unseemly degree of cooperation with the EU, to the toxic greenery of the government’s energy policy, to the extravagance of Britain’s rapidly expanding overseas aid budget, to the failure to secure better control of the country’s borders, and, well, you get the picture. UKIP is by no means a perfect party, and it has a distinctly oddball side, but in all the areas I have mentioned, and quite a few more besides, its policies are both more genuinely Conservative—and more popular—than what the Tories have on offer. A vote for UKIP on this occasion (even if, sadly, it means handing the seat to the Lib Dems) is a way of applying pressure designed to save the Tories from themselves. And for those who say that such messages do not get through, I have only one question. Do you really think that Cameron (a convinced refendum-skeptic with a dodgy track record in that area) would have gone so far as to promise what he has without the threat of yet more Conservatives lending their votes to UKIP? To ask the question is to answer it.
If I lived in Eastleigh, I’d vote UKIP today.