Midlands Tories face perils of waging war on two fronts

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The threat of Nigel Farage's UKIP could see the Tories fighting an election battle on two fronts

"Vote UKIP. Get Labour"

It's not exactly the clarion call with which most Midlands Conservative activists would chose to rally support for their 2015 general election campaign, now just over a year and a half away.

But it certainly conveys the scale of the problem facing them.

Despite UKIP's protestations that they are gaining support from all the main parties, the evidence is mounting that the "UKIP factor" poses the biggest threat to the Conservatives.

Publicly, Lichfield's Michael Fabricant is in a minority of one among Conservative MPs in suggesting a debate about a possible electoral pact with UKIP.

But some Westminster-watchers are taking the idea increasingly seriously as they see what happens when Tory support drains away to UKIP.

Next May's European Elections could play right into Nigel Farage's hands: a risk-free electoral playpen in which voters can register a protest and help UKIP to out-poll the Tories.

As Gordon Brown knows only too well, a European Election performance can set the tone for a general election 12 months later.

Consider what this might mean here in the Midlands, famous for our marginal, so-called "swing" seats.

According to a poll released on Sunday, 15th September 2013 by the former Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, it is in these crucial constituencies that UKIP's challenge is strongest.

While Labour's lead in the national polls is hovering around a relatively modest 5%, Lord Ashcroft suggests that in the Tory marginals Labour's lead is more like 14%, (43% to 29%), not because of any great surge in Labour's popularity, but because of UKIP splitting the right of centre vote.

Which leaves David Cameron facing what all military tacticians will tell you is the unenviable prospect of waging war on two fronts at the same time.

So whatever Mr Fabricant may have said about a Tory/UKIP deal, the most potent unholy alliance in British politics could prove to be be the one between Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage.

Both will hotly deny it of course.

But that will not stop me putting it to them both when I continue my round of interviews with the party leaders, preparing for their respective conferences.

UKIP hold theirs in London on Friday 20th and Saturday 21st September 2013 just a week after their former deputy leader Mike Nattrass resigned from the party.

He will sit as an Independent West Midlands MEP following his non-selection on UKIP's candidates' list for next year's European polls. Mr Nattrass accused the party of selecting "cronies" of Mr Farage whom he accused of being a "totalitarian" leader like Robert Mugabe who made Machiavelli look like an amateur.

Meantime Labour gather in Brighton for their conference from Sunday, 22nd September to Wednesday 25th September 2013.

Having resigned from the Shadow Cabinet over the Falkirk "selection rigging" issue, the West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson accused his leaders of "rash decisions" about their relationship with their union paymasters.

I hope you will join us for our interviews with the unlikeliest of political odd couples - Miliband and Farage - on this weekend's Sunday Politics from 11.00 on BBC One Midlands on Sunday 22nd September 2013.