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Whack! Nigel Farage gives the wedge between the Tory leadership and its base another hit

By Peter Hoskin
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Remember when Nigel Farage mentioned the possibility of an electoral pact between his party and the Conservatives, back in September? His condition for any such deal was “an absolute promise, written in blood, that they would give us a full, free and fair referendum on our continued membership of the EU.” He was happy, of course, for that referendum to be held after 2015.

Mr Farage’s position has rather shifted now that David Cameron has promised a referendum on Europe. During an interview on the Andrew Marr Show in January, he said that the “full, free and fair referendum” should come “before the next election”. He added that a pact would be “virtually impossible to contemplate” while David Cameron is Tory leader.

The reason I mention all this is because, today, Mr Farage’s anti-Cameron proviso appears to have firmed up. The Daily Telegraph contains an intriguing story about a recent dinner meeting between the Ukip leader and Rupert Murdoch – apparently, their first together – during which the former explained his plans to the latter. The paper reports:

“[Mr Farage] said he will then set out plans to join forces with the Conservatives to fight Labour in the 2015 general election, but only if David Cameron agrees to step down as the party leader, well-placed sources said.”

This is reminiscent of Ed Miliband’s old tactic with the Lib Dems: talk up the prospects of a LibLab coalition, but add that it’s only possible sans Clegg. The mischief is clear in both cases. Mr Miliband wanted to drive a wedge between the Lib Dem leadership and the party base, and Mr Farage wants to do likewise in the case of the Tories. After all, there could be votes to be found in the split.

But this is where Conservatives should be fearful. The Lib Dems have generally rebuffed Miliband’s crude advances – yet will Tory MPs do likewise? There are many who take the (to my mind, horribly wrong-headed and short-sighted) view that the party’s best hopes reside in joining forces with Ukip. The result in Eastleigh has only heightened this sentiment.

And that means trouble for Mr Cameron, should he increasingly be regarded as an impediment to any such pact. Tory MPs are already murmuring against his leadership. Nigel Farage is chivvying them on.

> P.S. Paul Goodman has written extensively about the possibility of a Tory-Ukip pact. It’s worth reading his ConservativeHome posts here and here.


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