My friend Dave explains what he means

My admiration for Dave knows no bounds, certainly no lower ones. As you know, I consider him the greatest British prime minister since Gordon Brown, and I’ll loyally fight his corner against all detractors.

Dave knows this too, which is why he regards me as a friend. He and I often go down the pub together, letting our hair down, our shirts out and our children get lost. At such relaxed moments I sometimes ask Dave to clarify the meaning of his pronouncements whenever I feel they take me out of my, admittedly rather shallow, depth.

This is what I did last night, when Dave and I shared some ideas and pork scratchings at his local. ‘What did you mean, Dave,’ I asked after my second pint of Wife Beater and his fourth, ‘when you said you’ll neither lurch to the right nor plant yourself in the middle between your political opponents? If you’re neither on the right nor in the middle, you’re on the left, aren’t you?’

‘Boot, you imbecile,’ answered Dave in a courageous attempt to conceal his affection for yours truly, ‘even you with your pea brain must understand this. Just read what I wrote. You know how to read, don’t you? “It’s not about being Left-wing or Right-wing – it’s about being where the British people are.” So there’s no need to lurch either to the right or to the left. British people are already in the lurch. Innit?’ he added, realising that other pub crawlers were trying to listen to our conversation.

‘Take gay marriage, for example,’ said Dave and then delivered one of his famous witticisms, ‘please, please take it.’ As I was wiping tears of laughter off my shirt front, he turned serious.

‘Where are the British people on this issue? Not on the left of the body politic and not on the right. They’re planted right down the middle, firmly, to the hilt and for a long haul. They like it up the middle. All I have to do is give’em a little push from behind.’ Then, suddenly aware that he forgot to drop his aitches yet again, Dave added, ‘Djamean?’

‘Yes, Dave, you did say that Britain had been going down for years under Labour,’ I said in a feeble attempt to match Dave’s wit.

‘I said it was going downhill, not down, you retard,’ laughed Dave and playfully punched me in the jaw with a solid left jab. ‘And now we aren’t pushing it fast enough… mate. That’s what makes some people lurch to the right, but they’ll never make us go the same way.’

‘Yes, but Ukip votes cost you Eastleigh, didn’t they?’ I suggested, only to see Dave turn crimson. ‘Nutters!’ he screamed. ‘Morons! Barbour louts! Fascists! Forces of conservatism!’ It took another swift pint of Wife Beater to calm him down.

‘Let me explain this to you in words of one syllable, Boot… er… mate,’ said Dave, helping himself to my onion crisps.

‘The demographics of the Eastleigh electorate are ineluctably intertwined with their socioeconomic situation, thereby inexorably propelling them towards the effluvia of encephalophonic animadversions perpetrated by those psychointellectually disadvantaged functionaries of Ukip…’

‘I get it, Dave,’ I said, even though I didn’t. ‘They don’t like it up the middle after all.’

‘But they do, mate, you retard, that’s exactly what they like. Gagging for it,’ explained Dave. ‘That’s why we’re not going to lurch to either side, and especially not to the right. And we’ll eschew every “cynical attempt to calculate the middle distance between our political opponents”, just like I wrote. Take those Ukip nutters out of the equation, and there is no bloody distance between us and our opponents. And there won’t be unless we lurch to the right, which we won’t.’

What I like about Dave is that he has the power of his office… sorry, I mean convictions. Like no other politician, he can ringfence his beliefs and stay sitting on the ring fence for ever. This throws light on the point he made the other day. After all, if you sit on a fence, a lurch to either side means you’ll fall down.

‘I understand now, Dave’ I said. ‘You’re “on the side of hard-working, decent, patriotic people”, just like you wrote. That’s what makes you different from all those nutters. They’re on the side of the lazy, the evil, the treacherous. But you’re on the right side, mate, which means you don’t have to lurch anywhere.’

‘You got it in one, Boot,’ said Dave and ordered his Special Branch bodyguard to tell the landlord we’re switching to shorts.











UKIP can destroy the Tories. Then what?

My lower-case conservative friends are enthusiastic about UKIP finishing ahead of both Tories and Labour in the Eastleigh by-election. By contrast, I’m upset about UKIP finishing behind the LibDems.

Is Nigel Farage’s pint glass half-full or half-empty? This depends on whether one looks upon it from an aesthetic or pragmatic vantage point.

Aesthetically it’s most satisfying that UKIP has shown its potential to consign the morally and intellectually bankrupt Tory party to roughly the role traditionally played by the LibDems. It’s now a fair assumption that when UKIP contests a seat, the Tories will be unlikely to win it. It’s as fair an assumption that neither will UKIP.

That’s where pragmatism comes in. This was once explained to me in simple words by a formidable Tory front-bencher. ‘A vote for UKIP,’ she roared in response to my cri de coeur, ‘is a vote for Labour.’ Or for LibDems, as the case was yesterday. Either way, she had a point.

Do we seriously think that the Milibandits, in or out of coalition with the Cleggies, will be better than the Cameroons? Of course we don’t. At their best, they’ll be just as bad. At their normal, they’ll be even worse. At their worst, they’ll make the Brits seek refuge in Romania, not the other way round.

True conservatives are counting on UKIP to knock the Tories out of their shilly-shallying stride, making them act like, well, Tories, rather than Blair clones. UKIP then is supposed to do for the Tories what a spoiler does for a car. It keeps it on the straight and narrow.

The recent travesty with referendum promises shows how forlorn this hope is. His mind honed by PR trickery, Dave made a sop to anti-federalism by half-promising a referendum (a half-promise on anything is the best Dave can make – just look at his track record, or indeed his face). This, however, has not so much strings as a noose attached.

For, in common with most modern politicians, Dave is incapable of looking beyond the next election. Hence the referendum carrot can’t be eaten unless he remains at Downing Street after 2015 – and Eastleigh shows how improbable this is. Moreover, no promise has been made on the wording of the big question, and any market researcher will tell you that this is often decisive.

If you ask the people ‘Do you wish to stay in the EU so we can continue to trade with Europe?’, you’ll get one answer. If you ask ‘Do you wish to leave the EU so Britain can become independent again?’ the answer will be different.

In other words, Dave made no binding or substantive promise. He merely tried to neutralise what’s commonly perceived as UKIP’s single issue. The trick didn’t work in Eastleigh. Whether it’ll work nationally remains to be seen. In the unlikely event that it does, the Tories may yet win the next election. In the almost certain event that it doesn’t, Labour will win. In either event, we’ll lose.

It’s naïve to expect that a tectonic shift can occur in any major modern party. Those embarking on spoiling raids may toss bricks through windows all they want – the spivocrats will paper the windows over and remain almost as cosy as before. And historically, our first-past-the-post culture consigns any third party to such petty thuggery at best.

All this achieves these days is making the spivocrats conjure up new and more devious cardsharping tricks. Sure enough, voters can satisfy their platonic cravings by casting a protest vote in a by-election or even nationally, but this would mean something only if there were a real difference between the two main parties. But there isn’t, so it doesn’t.

Much as we may love UKIP, and Nigel Farage personally, it’s hard to say that the party is being triumphant in its spoiler role. The Tories are just as spivocratic as before, and UKIP still doesn’t have a single MP. Moreover, the party now has half as many members as it did in 2004. It does well in European elections, but that only goes to show how trivial most Brits consider these to be.

If UKIP is to succeed, it must stop snapping at the Tories’ ankles. It must kick them into touch. And the only way to achieve this is by reinventing itself as the true conservative party, one that can engage and win a debate on the economy and health, education and defence – on every issue of vital interest to the country.

The only meaningful way of winning such debates isn’t to field better debaters – it’s to offer better solutions. For such solutions to be taken seriously, the party must position itself as a serious force. UKIP must show itself to be ready not to trip up Tory nincompoops but to form a government.

As it is, UKIP is sending mixed signals, which is why it’s delivering mixed results. On the one hand, the party broadens its appeal by placing itself on the side of the conservative angels on such issues as grammar schools, immigration, same-sex marriage. On the other hand its top functionaries suggest, as one did to me a few months ago, that UKIP would disband the moment we leave the EU.

Such a silly remark in a private conversation wouldn’t matter, but unfortunately this is the general impression the party conveys to the electorate. Unless this changes, a vote for UKIP will indeed mean a vote for Labour.

What can be done? Not being an expert in political free-for-all, I can only suggest a broad strategy, not concrete tactical steps.

First, UKIP must come up with an all-embracing political philosophy, positioning itself as the true conservative party, the only one capable of upholding the country’s ancient constitution, making it prosperous, just and free. This is harder than it sounds, for no more or less universal understanding of conservatism is discernible at present.

Then UKIP must translate this philosophy into the kind of sound bytes that can penetrate the consciousness of a public that has been systematically and, one suspects, deliberately corrupted and dumbed down.

Unlike the first two tasks, the next two would cost. UKIP must employ the best talent to carry the sound bytes to the populace – widely, incessantly and effectively. This would be impossible without finding big backers, but a cursory inspection suggests they’re there to be found.

Finally, the party must contest every election, communicating to voters its seriousness of purpose. The electorate must be made to realise that UKIP’s intention is to form the government, not to keep it marginally more honest.

True, this is all easier said than done, especially the last two parts. But unless it’s done, UKIP will be limited to providing good, clean fun. Tory candidates will weep into their pillows. Labour will snigger. And the country, now properly entertained, will laugh all the way to disaster.