Newspapers that tell you how to vote are asking for trouble. I still meet readers with harsh words to say about the recommendation of the editorials of the Guardian and Observer that they should vote Liberal Democrat at the last election. (Those who followed it are the most scathing.)
So it is with a stammer in my voice and fear in my eyes that I say that, in theory, some of you should vote Tory in May. Hold on! Put that pitchfork down. I just said “in theory”. My point is that liberal or leftwing readers in Kent and Essex could, in theory, consider tactically voting Conservative to stop Ukip winning.
The argument in favour of choosing the lesser of two evils ought to be clear by now. Nigel Farage has revealed the dark side that many of us never doubted he possessed. He told Channel 4 he wanted to scrap laws against discrimination on the grounds of race and colour. Then he told the BBC he had been “wilfully misinterpreted”.
All extremists dance the Ukip two-step. Asim Qureshi of CAGE, the Nigel Farage of British Islamism, won’t condemn the statements of his clerical mentor that female genital mutilation is probably obligatory, that Jews are descendants of pigs, and that death is God’s just penalty for adultery and homosexuality. When asked if he agrees, Qureshi replies: “I don’t know I’m not a theologian.”
Election 2015: The Guardian poll projection
The fanatic signals to his “base” – in all senses of that word – that he would if he could let them pick on ethnic minorities or subjugate women, but gives himself the room to wriggle to the exit if he needs an escape. As Farage has signalled that he is at ease with far-right policies, everyone who opposes them should quell their heaving stomachs and vote Tory, if Tories are the only people who can defeat Ukip.
In practice, I am not going to recommend a tactical Tory vote, not least because no one would listen. Rob Ford of Manchester University, and co-author of Revolt on the Right, the definitive study of Ukip, says there is no evidence yet that anyone will support the Conservatives because they are the lesser of two evils. David Cameron has gone out of his way to do nothing to lessen the evil in Conservatism. Indeed he has deliberately accentuated it.
If the Conservatives wanted to appeal to the centre ground, they would pick a candidate to run against Farage in South Thanet who actually opposed Farage. A moderate Tory, with a record of concern for those at the bottom of the heap, could appeal to centrists voters on the Kent coast by saying: “I know we don’t agree on everything but you and I have much in common.” Instead the Conservatives are offering a former Ukip leader called Craig Mackinlay who does not attack Farage’s ideas and offer an alternative but merely claims that the Tories are better placed to give Ukip voters what they want – Faragism without the Farage.
Compare Cameron’s decision to appease Ukip rather than fight it with the choice made by his fellow conservative leader Angela Merkel. She was confronted with anti-Muslim protests in Dresden in the winter. She did not worry about splitting the rightwing vote or the need to win back the demonstrators. She denounced its leaders for having “prejudice, coldness and hatred in their hearts”. Whatever immediate damage to their cause, in the long run German Christian Democrats will benefit as ethnic-minority voters and Germans worried by nationalism and racism remember that when the moment of choice came, Merkel stood firm. In Britain they will remember that Cameron folded.
Many blame Cameron’s Australian strategist Lynton Crosby for his failure to stand up to Ukip. Crosby is indeed a dangerous fool who does not understand Britain. But Cameron is meant to be his own man. The last time I looked he was meant to be prime minister. He knows the Tories managed to attract only 16% of non-white voters at the last election, and the party’s future prospects are dreadful if it cannot broaden its appeal as the size of the ethnic minority vote grows. Cameron presented himself as a moderate, tolerant politician with all kinds of strategies for addressing the Tories’ race problem. But when his moment of choice came, he chose tactics over strategy, and cowardice over honour. As he has a habit of doing
If you want real anger-driven polemic read my colleague Alex Massie or other Scottish unionists on Cameron’s decision to incite English nationalism. The Conservatives joined the campaign to keep the union together, and won, although the vote looked a close-run thing for a while. The United Kingdom they fought to preserve guaranteed that Scots MPs could decide on the government of the country. Now Cameron implies they should not. He issues pictures of Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket, as if Scots were dangerous aliens with no right to vote on the future government of Britain. The Tories’ message – “the English don’t want us enough to respect our democratic choices” – will persuade more Scots to leave. English nationalism can only help Scottish nationalism, as Cameron confirms every prejudice about the arrogance and duplicity of the English elite. But in the next few weeks, which is about as far as Cameron can see ahead, it just may persuade a few hundred thousand English voters to give him the support he needs to stagger over the line.
In the fable of the scorpion and the frog, a scorpion asks a frog sitting by a river bank for a lift across the water. “How do I know you won’t kill me?” the frog inquires. “Because,” the scorpion replies, “if I kill you then I would die too, for I cannot swim!” Reassured, the frog takes the scorpion on his back. Halfway across he feels a sharp sting and a deadening numbness spreading through his body. “Why did you do that?” the frog asks as they sink to their deaths. “You have killed us both.”
“I can’t help myself,” the scorpion replies. “It’s my nature.”
The Conservatives know that by appealing to English nationalism they are endangering the union. They know that if they swing too far to the right, they will lose moderate voters. They know that if they don’t declare their opposition to racism and demonstrate it daily they will suffer for generations to come. They know it, but can’t help themselves. It’s their nature.