This time last year, I wrote an article saying my main project in 2014 would be to unite the right. That is, I would start a political movement that would bring together Conservative and Ukip activists in a tactical voting alliance. We would select a few dozen battleground constituencies and campaign for whichever candidate was best placed to win in each seat, whether Ukip or Tory. The name for this movement was to be ‘Country Before Party’.
The initial response was encouraging. Hundreds of people emailed me offering their support, including MEPs, members of the House of Lords, ex-MPs, and so on. I set up a website, assembled a steering committee and started drafting detailed plans. I felt like I was really on to something.
The most common reaction among seasoned political observers was to assume I was proposing a full-blown electoral pact and then pour cold water on the idea. But that was missing the point. I was proposing an informal pact between the parties’ supporters, not a formal pact between their leaders. I was adamant that my idea didn’t depend on the blessing of David Cameron and Nigel Farage. It could still fly even in the face of their opposition.
But I was secretly hoping that behind closed doors, the party panjandrums would be more sympathetic. After all, they must recognise that in the absence of some kind of alliance between the two camps, the risk of Ed Miliband becoming the next prime minister is quite high. There is also the fact that we believe in a lot of the same things: national sovereignty, free enterprise, controlled immigration, lower taxes, school choice, freedom of speech, etc. There are shared values here, even if we differ on policy detail.
However, meetings with senior members of both parties soon put paid to that hope. Both camps told me that they would do very well at the next election without any help from the other, thank you very much. They also maintained that any hint of an alliance, however informal, would antagonise huge swaths of their supporters and they’d end up losing more votes than they’d gain.
I pushed back on these points, but there was something else going on that was harder to argue with — a kind of tribal antipathy. Farage and Cameron have a mutual loathing that’s rooted in their identity as members of their respective parties and which is echoed lower down the ranks. They regard each other not as estranged members of the same family, but as bitter enemies. To broker any sort of accommodation between the two camps would require a degree of trust that just isn’t there.
Leaders of both parties are convinced that their opposite numbers are hellbent on their destruction and everything each side says or does is seen through that lens. Indeed, both groups I met with treated me with extreme suspicion, as if I was an agent of the other side trying to lure them into saying something that could then be used against them.
I realised I had bitten off more than I could chew after these meetings. To begin with, any alliance along the lines I was suggesting would be vigorously opposed by both party organisations, even to the extent of threatening to expel any members who campaigned for the other team. That meant building a grass-roots movement would be much harder than I’d anticipated and would probably take longer than the time remaining before the next election.
Then there was the fact that I wasn’t the right person to lead this crusade, given my close identification with the Conservative party. If the proposal was associated with me, it would always be viewed with deep scepticism by most Kippers.
There was another, more fundamental problem. If I pursued this project, given how hostile senior Tories were towards it, I would probably end up falling out with my own party and I didn’t much like the idea of being exiled from my tribe. I value the camaraderie of fellow Tories and I don’t want to lose that. I’ve got so many enemies as it is, I have no wish to throw away my few remaining allies.
So in 2015 I’m going to confine my New Year’s resolutions to drinking less and losing a few pounds. Trying to make a decisive intervention in the next general election is a little too ambitious.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.