When Tony Blair was prime minister, he used what has infamously (and often pejoratively) become referred to as “triangulation”. What it meant in practice was that Labour could ignore traditional bases of support such as the white northern working-classes, essentially take them for granted, because they “had nowhere else to go”. All of the firepower was instead used to please the vaunted “swing voter”: those who had voted Tory in the past, but could be persuaded that Labour were more in line with their interests.
With the implosion of the Labour Party we are now witnessing the Conservative version of this same phenomenon. In the budget yesterday, Hammond raised taxes on the self-employed. Many on the Right are outraged, but it is this reverse-Blairism in excelsis. After all, are freelance entrepreneurs going to go and vote for the guy in the Lenin hat instead? Oddly enough, the emerging Tory hegemony means that groups the Right has traditionally catered to can be ignored in favour of what has become the desired swing voter for the Conservatives: that 13-odd percent who still say they would vote UKIP at a general election.
If the Tories can convert a significant number of these self-identifying UKIPers, the 2020 general election (or whenever the next one comes round) will go from being an historic Conservative victory to something seen once every few centuries, a total change in the political fabric of the nation; a permanent alteration in the way things are done. The Tories are polling around 42/43% at present – if they could get half of the UKIP vote in their column they would then be very close to 50%. If you want to know what getting 50% of the vote in a First Past the Post can look like, check out what happened in Scotland in 2015. If you think something similar can’t happen in England and Wales then you haven’t been paying close enough attention.
The result of this, as I say, could ironically be bad news for groups that are normally solidly Conservative: the gainfully self-employed, bankers, hedge fund managers, farmers, land owners with large holdings. With no genuine alternatives around, their interests could become marginalised by May’s government very swiftly.
There is a good piece by Anoosh in the New Statesman about how much of the UKIP manifesto has been taken on board by the Tories since Brexit. They are going for it, clearly. Sadly, I not only think it will probably work, I can’t really blame them for it. It is, objectively speaking, the smartest political move available. What is required is more pressure from the Left and liberals to counterbalance the equation. It is hard to see that happening any time soon in any form that would cause Theresa May to reappraise her strategy.