Could UKIP (and Lisbon) cost Cameron his comfortable majority…?

I’ve a pretty chipper Tory mate who did have his party pegged for a 90 seat majority in the next parliament. But Simon Heffer probably raises an issue that most Tories don’t want to talk about in public… a possibly deleterious drift to UKIP in their long prepared and highly funded effort in the southern English marginals as a result of David Cameron’s climb down over Lisbon… I’ve not checked with my Tory mate since then…

I keep meeting Tory MPs who say that they are going to get a majority of 50 or 60 (though one did have the good manners the other day to tell me that, following the debacle of Mr Cameron’s European policy, it may be 20 fewer thanks to votes that will go to Ukip in various marginal seats). The party’s public pronouncements are (and this is a rarity) likely to be far more accurate than its private ones. The party is not agitating for an immediate election precisely because it is genuinely unsure that it can win it outright.

Much damage can be done in the next few months; not so much in Parliament (though that is possible, especially if there are any frivolous attempts to make little constitutional reforms that may end up having big consequences) as in the business of government, which we can expect to continue with its present level of incompetence and distraction. Too many Labour ministers are concentrating on their likely personal defeats, or on the defeat of their party, their need to survive in opposition and what camp to jump into in the leadership campaign that is likely to follow the election.

It is surprising, given those conditions, that the opposition is not livelier and noisier. It is handicapped, however, by an absence of firm policy to be lively and noisy about. Even this late in the day, it remains much easier for the Tories to be negative about what Labour does or proposes than to be positive about their own programme. The party is still resistant to hard political principles but flexible in the face of polling and focus group findings. It is hard for shadow spokesmen to try to develop policy when one of the teenagers in Central Office could get on the phone at any time and ask them to move sharply in the opposite direction.

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