We’ve only had a few results through in the local elections, but already the parties are giving their verdict on the way last night worked for them. One thing to watch today is the development of a Tory line on UKIP. There hasn’t been one in the run-up to polling day, but will there be a concerted effort from the Conservative leadership to produce a clear message about what Nigel Farage’s success means for the Tories?
Grant Shapps certainly managed to stick to the Tinkerbell strategy of trying not to say ‘UKIP’ or ‘Nigel Farage’ in his Today programme interview. But he also stuck to the sympathetic portrayal of those who vote UKIP – rather than its candidates and now elected representatives – as people ‘impatient for change’. He also told voters ‘this is a loud and clear message. We get it. We hear you’. That message is that the government needs to get on with deficit reduction and driving down immigration.
It’s interesting that Shapps also decided to bring up the welfare changes that the government has instituted. He described the long haul in bringing in these changes, but behind the scenes strategists view the way the party has sold itself in the past month on benefit cuts and the introduction of universal credit as one of its finest moments. It won’t be the last time Shapps and his colleagues remind listeners of how well the party is doing on this issue.
But Shapps also referred to voters’ desire for an EU referendum. The spin from the top is that it’s vital Conservatives make it clear to voters that electing them to government in 2015 will guarantee a referendum, but John Baron got in early doors on the Today programme to insist that a manifesto pledge wasn’t enough. Though sources close to the PM made clear to Coffee House yesterday that there won’t be a Bill in the Queen’s Speech on this, expect a head of steam to build on the backbenches for some action very soon.
And in the meantime, the Tory line seems to be ‘sensible voters are telling Tories to get on with it by voting UKIP, and we will’. This weekend’s papers will doubtless bring details of what that ‘getting on with it’ will entail.