Too much pushes the blues and purples apart
Split parties do not win elections, so the saying goes.Â Nor, by extension, do parties whose natural support base is divided between parties, particularly under FPTP â€“ which is why from time to time we hear calls from some on the right-of-centre for an electoral pact between the Conservatives and UKIP, who look at the 45-50% that the two parties poll between them and dream of landslide governments rather than impotent oppositions.Â It wonâ€™t happen, not least because such dreams ignore certain inconvenient realities.
One such reality is that there is a very clear message from history as to what electoral pacts mean, which is the end of at least one party as an independent entity.Â That may come through merger, takeover or reduction to irrelevance but come it invariably does.Â Where one party is clearly the dominant member of an alliance, a pact effectively means a delayed takeover.Â The Conservatives have particularly strong form on this, having taken over the Liberal Unionists that split from Gladstone, the National Liberals that split in 1931, and dominated the Lloyd George-led government between 1918 and when it fell at a time of their choosing.
That, of course, is one of the main reasons why the larger party agrees to it in the first place and why those Conservative supporters who advocate it now, do so.Â UKIP would in effect be given a certain number of MPs while their capacity to operate independently would be slowly extinguished.Â The dynamics are simple: once there are several dozen (say) UKIP MPs whose future presence in the House relies on continuing to be given a free run by the Tories, it becomes extremely difficult for them to act in such a way that would provoke an ending of the alliance.
However, that self-same dynamic is also the biggest stumbling block to such a deal.Â Many UKIP activists left the Conservatives because of disillusionment at the policies and tone of its leadership.Â Why then set their new party on a course back to where they started?Â For those who left a party of government for one on the fringes, a share of power alone is an insufficient inducement otherwise theyâ€™d have stayed in the first place.
This is before you add in the antipathies, egos, pride and other personal factors that would prevent the two from working amicably together.Â Not the least of the problems would be identifying which party would stand in which constituency; decisions that are fraught with the capacity for upsetting the candidates and foot-soldiers of each party alike.
Thatâ€™s compounded by the fact that many UKIP voters â€“ and to a lesser extent, activists â€“ donâ€™t identify with the Conservatives as fellow-travellers whoâ€™ve simply slipped from the right path.Â An increasing number are ex-Labour or at least have values that align with where Labour once was.Â We know from the polling that a sizable minority prefer Labour to Tories and in the absence of a UKIP candidate (which would be the case in most constituencies were there a pact), those UKIP votes would transfer red rather than blue, if they get cast at all. Â The electoral benefits of any Con-UKIP pact would be far lower than a simple sum of the scores would suggest.
There is one alternative that may prove attractive, however, if the Tories have the ambition and audacity to seize it: a pre-election advocacy of PR.Â
If implemented, it would do away with the need for pacts.Â It would also greatly diminish the effectiveness of negative campaigning and tactical voting â€“ two aspects of modern politics that have proven so corrosive to public trust. Getting in ahead of the game may also be tactically wise in case the election produces a particularly unfair result.Â On the other hand, if a hung parliament results, virtually all the minor parties might be expected to view PR with favour and with a manifesto commitment, thereâ€™d be no need for a referendum.
The new four-party line-up also fundamentally changes the political battlefield, as the Conservatives now have one potential ally to either side of them on the spectrum while Labour doesnâ€™t.Â That might change if the Greens could up their support but on their current polling theyâ€™d still be of only marginal significance under most systems of PR.
What is clear is that despite the damage FPTP does both parties, there wonâ€™t be a pact before 2015: there are just too many things pushing UKIP and the Tories apart.