The Conservatives have not become UKIP they are far, far cleverer than that. Since David Cameron’s unwise decision to promise a referendum on EU membership in the Conservative Manifesto for the 2015 General Election everything has gone swimmingly for the Tory Right. The objectives of Cameron’s gamble were twofold. First to rein back the Tory Right which were giving him bovver (as they had the previous One Nation leader John Major). The Coaliton was anathema to the Right as anyone who, like me, has followed articles on  Consevative websites like ConHom (especially) viewed the postings underneath them knows. This website is the home of the Right and always has been. MIchael Ashcroft knew exactly what he was doing when he funded it and appointed the likes of Tim Mongomerie (once a self-declared NeoCon), Mark Wallace (once campaign director for the Far Right “Taxpayers’ Alliance) and Paul Goodman (no Pinko he) to run it. 

Cameron, not a man with a powerful ideology of any sort but a pragmatic centrist, segued to the Left in order to attract the LibDems and take power. For five years they bumbled harmlessly along. Not Right Wing in any significant way but a largely Blairite Government. This meant, not least because the LibDems were on board, that no backtracking on the EU could be entertained. We were going to stay a member. This was all the Conservative Right really needed to plan their coup. The rise of UKIP showed them that an anti-Europe stance could be electorally attractive providing it was given populist expression with an anti-immigration (and essentially xenophobic) brand message. The Right attacked Dave here and elsewhere and at the same time UKIP’s position strengthened further. So in the run up to May 2015 Cameron decided that he needed to defeat both the the Right in his own Party and their fellow travellers in UKIP. Theresa May (instinctively anti-immigration) covered one flank and Lynton Crosby brilliantly fought off the LibDems – the friends who overnight became the enemy. Ask Vince Cabvle. Ask NIck Clegg.

The EU Referendum was the key. Some (Toby Young for one) called for a Tory/UKIP electoral pact. Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell showed that there wasn’t a chink of light separating them. The Mail, Express, Sun and so on built up UKIP (helped amazingly by the BBC !) and Nigel Farage grabbed the headlines. But First Past the Post screwed them – along with some shady dealings in Thanet and elsewhere). Dave triumphed – but with the Sword of Damocles hanging over him.

I’m sure that Cameron thought he’d win the referendum. You don’t get First Class Honours at Oxford without a good brain and he knew that the case for leaving the EU was intellectually bereft of logic. “Leave” had no rational support and no arguments could be put forward by them to refute the sound logic of “Remain” – they didn’t need to be! Whether there was an evil genius coordinating the disparate “Leave” campaigns I don’t know – it wouldn’t surprise me. But the two main campaigns, though they occasionally seemed in dispute, worked effectively togther. Johnson, Gove, Smith and Co. were the (reasonably) respectable public face of one. Farage and Banks and Co. the hard cop face of the other. 

Leave.EU was effective. Well funded. No claim on respectability. Loved by the Media  – it was essentially a UKIP Front. Xenophobic. Islamaphobic. Anti Multiculturalism. Overtly didactic in their message. We all saw the posters. We all saw the lies. We all squirmed at how low politics had fallen. But the message worked where it needed to.  Whilst Gove and go told the “Sovereignty” story – and its variants to sure up the middle class but aging anti EU vote the Leave.EU band went hard for the man in the street. The white, working-class, ill-educated and (maybe) fearful man in the street that is. 

There is no doubt that Farage an Co. won the EU Refererendum for “Leave”. And not only did they win it but by how they won it they totally tied Theresa May’s hands. A so-called “Soft Brexit” (e.g. Like Norway) was far from precluded by the likes of Hannan and Carswell. And many others. But you don’t get that without Freedom of Movement and obviously having won the EU Referendum by stoking up fears on migration there was no wriggle room here at all. Hard Brexit it had to be. UK uniquely cut adrift from mainstream Europe. 

So UKIP and Mr Banks had done their job. And some. Brexit was to mean Brexit. Migration would at last be controlled. And – crucially – the Right was in charge. May was the beneficiary of all this and gradually the real agenda became clear. Free Enterprise would have its best days since Margaret Thatcher. Regulation would be thrown away. A General Election would be held to give all this (and much more) its legitimacy. 

So have the Conservatives become UKIP? No. What has happened is that UKIP has shifted the political ground heavily to the Right. The Tory Right Wing was already there, but marginalised. Now they are mainstream and it is the One Nation Tories who have lost out and they who have become marginalised. (Check Matthew Parris’s increasingly frustrated writings to see the extent to which that has happened. Or listen to Ken Clarke.

The Conservatives of Theresa May are the Conservatives of Margaret Thatcherr. But remember that she is the one politician of the past that Farage reveres. He was always a Thatcherite Tory and so – as John Major and David Cameron found out – were many others – in the country and of course on ConHome. The widest grins these days are those of Iain Dale and Michael Ashcroft and Mark Wallace and Charles Moore…They have their time in the Sun again. The Blessed Maragaret is vindicated – now for the re-run of the 1980s. If Theresa May is up to it. And if she isn’t don’t worry – we we’ve plenty more where she came from !

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