UKIP kept David Cameron up at night, or so we were often told back in those heady days. It was the threat of the purple people eaters taking Tory seats on account of the EU issue that convinced Cameron to make the mistake that eventually brought down his premiership, namely his speech in January 2013 promising to hold an In/Out EU referendum should the Tories get a parliamentary majority after 2015.
That 2013 speech neither destroyed UKIP nor resolved the EU issue for the Conservatives, at least not yet, as Cameron’s successor looks doomed to spend all of her first parliament as PM (at least) on that one topic and little else. But what has changed, it seems, is how the upper echelons of the Conservative Party view UKIP; perhaps no longer a threat to them at all, but rather exclusively to Labour.
What makes me think that might be the case is who the Tories have selected for the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. Now, I do not wish to denigrate Jack Brereton in any way, I’m sure he’s a decent councillor. But he is twenty-five, and the whole thing has the whiff of the Tories letting UKIP have a free run. And why not: a very recent poll in the constituency suggests that UKIP are 10 points ahead of Labour, with the Tories languishing on 10%. So in a lost cause, why not let Labour definitely lose the seat and allow Nuttall to focus even harder on winning Labour seats and not bothering too much with Tory ones as a result?
The counterbalance to this is remembering how hard the Tories fought to keep Farage from winning Thanet South in 2015, or just how much time Cameron spent fretting about Tory MPs defecting to UKIP in the last parliament. I guess Brexit changes everything, but it’s still quite the turnaround. I suppose it leads one to ask: do the Tories really have nothing to fear from UKIP any longer? I think the answer to that is they really don’t. If UKIP start taking votes off of Labour in droves, it probably will help the Tories get even more seats at the next general election – by helping the Conservatives come through the middle in loads of seats currently held by Labour.
More to the point in some ways, Conservatives can see the actual destruction of the Labour Party – and by that I mean destruction as in no coming back ever, like what happened to the Liberal Party in the early 20th century – in plain sight, and are fuelled to help this along in an almost instinctive manner.