The Tory Party conference is an odd affair: unlike the Labour bash last week in Brighton, it already seems to be fixated not on moving up a gear in preparation for the 2015 General Election campaign, but to try and second-guess and elbow out Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar proper-uppers in UKIP. That might not be what the undecided part of the electorate needs to hear.
On top of that, the Tories are listening rather too much to unrepresentative groups peddling ideas that have already been demonstrated to be unworkable, are obviously going to be unworkable, will alienate the voters, or maybe all three at once: step forward the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which actually represents less than one-tenth of one per cent of all UK taxpayers.
So Young Dave and his jolly good chaps are becoming hostage to ideas based not on practicality, but on ideology, while at the same time trying to second-guess Nige on issues such as immigration. The upshot is a bogus-looking attempt to look mean and hard on unemployment, as the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet, did this morning.
Then the Tories get to look mean and hard on immigration later on, with measures announced by Home Secretary Theresa May, who is actually a highly intelligent and sensible person, but who is also as aware as the next Tory that Farage may be outside the tent, but after a few scoops of Tetley’s at the Circus Tavern this affy, he will all too soon be pissing in.
So Ms May is talking about getting really tough with immigrants, including throwing them out of the country before they have chance to figure out whether they can do anything about it. Will that assuage Farage? Not if today’s meeting with Tory Eurosceptic Bill Cash is anything to go by: you might think that he and Farage would be close to one another, but in reality they hate each others’ guts.
And Nige’s political antennae might not be as sharply tuned as some pundits would like to think: the idea that Jacob Rees-Mogg, Peter Bone (and, no doubt, Mrs Bone) and (yes, it’s her again) Nadine Dorries should not be opposed by UKIP as electing them would be “in the national interest” will raise much hollow laughter among those who have witnessed the trio’s various recent antics.
Which begs the question: why are the Tories bothering with UKIP? They’re trying to steal their clothes, but Farage is a cheap opportunist, whose every manifesto unravels in minutes. They appear to be looking to smear UKIP with “under the radar” activity – so less effort going into facing up to Labour. And all the while they have a membership in terminal decline and an increasing poll deficit.
The Tory Party this week appears to be all at sea, and with nobody on the bridge.