Two things have been puzzling Tory high-ups in Birmingham this week: does Nigel Farage have another defector in his back pocket, and why is the Tory party in such a good mood? Many expected that a second MP defecting to Ukip would have plunged the party into the slough of despond.
One influential Tory, though, has an explanation for what’s going on. ‘The mood here is so upbeat because people think we’ve got Labour beat.’ He is, however, quick to add, ‘It is Ukip that is the problem.’
This is the paradox of British politics at the moment: it is easier to explain why either main party shouldn’t win the election than to advance an argument as to why they will. With just eight months to go, Labour trails on the economy and leadership by margins that would normally be considered terminal. But the Tories have a split on the right to contend with that makes it structurally nigh-on impossible for them to win.
Normally the last party conference season before an election has a clarifying effect, indicating which side has the ideas, energy and determination to win. Instead, the last fortnight muddied the waters still further — though Cameron’s decision to make a clearer distinction between himself and Labour on income tax has given the Tories far more definition than they had previously.
With Reckless’s defection and two by-elections coming up, the divide on the right is more apparent than ever. For the first time in the postwar era, there will be a serious split in the right-wing vote at a British general election. In 2010, Ukip scored a mere3 per cent. It is now polling consistently in the teens. Electing its first MP, as it is bound to do in Clacton, will give it ready access to the publicity it needs to keep up its momentum.