What happens when the money runs out
Apart from George Bush no American has had a greater impact on UK politics in the past year than Dick Morris.
He was the election strategist who masterminded victory for President Bill Clinton, and was hired to be the brains behind the United Kingdom Independence partyâ€™s campaign at the Euro Elections last June.
His involvement was first noticed by the then Observer columnist, Nick Cohen, who more than two months beforehand wrote this remarkably predictive feature raising doubts about the influence of mega-donors in UK politics.
The result was stunning – a 16% vote share pushing the Lib Dems into fourth place – and the whole political landscape has not been the same since.
Prior to the Morris campaign the Tory YouGov rating had been solidly 39-40%. Since then they’ve had trouble topping their 2001 election share of 32.7%.
Just after the vote Morris described what he had done in this Sunday Times interview. â€œThe first strategic suggestion I made was the idea of â€˜Noâ€™,â€ he says. â€œIt captured all the reasons why people donâ€™t like the EU….â€œAn articulation of the reasons for opposing Brussels would have undoubtedly left many things out, and I felt it was important that the campaign did not limit peopleâ€™s vote but expand it,â€ explains Morris. â€œThe word â€˜Noâ€™ became a kind of tabula rasa on which everybody could project their own reason for opposing Brussels…â€œUKIP does not really stand for a range of policies. It stands for self-determination. I donâ€™t think the issue, for example, is whether to allow immigration or not. The issue is that decisions on immigration, or any other matter, should be made in Westminster, not Brussels.â€
The second string of the UKIP campaign was a traditional one: bring in the endorsements of celebrities. Though Morris was not in the forefront of this part of the campaign â€” Robert Kilroy-Silk does not play big in Washington DC, where Morris is still based â€” he fully backs the thinking behind it. He says that Kilroy-Silk and Joan Collins enabled the party to make it into newspapers and onto television stations which, he feels, would have otherwise shunned UKIP and its anti-Establishment message.
But will Dick Morris be there for UKIP at the coming General Election? He clearly commands big fees and the party’s multi-million pound backer, Paul Sykes, has moved away. Now UKIP’s website is full of anguished discussions about how PPC’s can find the Â£500 to stump up as a deposit.
It is very convenient, as we saw in yesterday’s discussion, for Lib Dem supporters in particular to over-state the impact of UKIP at the coming election in the hope that that it will make light of their task of taking on the Tories. But without multi-million pound backers and Morris’s strategic vision UKIP looks irrelevant.
The Lib Dems need to focus on their big battle – an onslaught by Labour the likes of which the party has never experienced before.