Chris Moncrieff: Panic stations over election Ukip factor

NIGEL Farage’s burgeoning United Kingdom Independence Party is going to have a disproportionate, but a critical and decisive, effect on the outcome of the next election – even if it wins only a handful of seats or none at all.

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are both privately fearful – even panicky – about the influence Ukip will wield when voters troop to the polling stations next May.

In short, Ukip’s intervention could decide whether we will be governed by David Cameron or Ed Miliband over the following five years.

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Opinion polls, including those commissioned privately by the main parties, have shown that in many marginal seats a Ukip candidate could poll enough votes to switch a currently held Conservative seat to Labour and vice versa. And the overall beneficiaries of this are likely to be Labour.

There is what appears to be an easy solution for the Conservatives – to organise some kind of election pact with Ukip to avoid a split of the right-of-centre vote. But Farage does not trust Mr Cameron and will not form any kind of liaison with the Tories so long as he remains the Conservative leader. And Mr Cameron, for his part, who has denounced Ukip as “fruitcakes” and worse, is equally obstinate about any kind of deal with Mr Farage.

So Mr Cameron will have to look elsewhere if he is to lure back those droves of Tories who deserted to Ukip, which they regard as more Conservative than the Conservative Party itself, and he has a mighty big hill to climb if he is to secure an overall majority next May.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg inexplicably scuppered a plan to give, as far as is possible, all the Parliamentary constituencies a roughly equal number of voters. That was perhaps the most shameful act committed by Mr Cameron’s partners in the coalition.

I MUST say it seems bizarre, to say the least, that the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, wants to appoint a relatively inexperienced Australian parliamentary official to fill the £300,000-a-year powerful post as House of Commons Clerk.

The vacancy follows the resignation of Sir Robert Rogers, who had reportedly been involved in several unpleasant run-ins with the Speaker.

The person Mr Bercow would like to see in the post is Carol Mills, who is currently head of the Department of Parliamentary Services of the Australian Senate. Even one of her Australian colleagues, Rosemary Laing (who holds the equivalent post in Canberra that Ms Mills would take up in Westminster) has described the appointment as an embarrassment and an affront.

Several of Sir Robert’s former colleagues in the Commons are said to be fuming that their knowledge and experience has apparently been ignored. I’d advise Ms Mills not to rush to buy her air ticket to London just yet.

The veteran Labour MP Austin Mitchell, who sits for Grimsby, is justifiably cross that older Labour MPs, in some cases, are being urged to stand down at the next election to be replaced, no doubt, by bright young things. Some of them are apparently being told that they are “urgently” needed in the Lords – a bogus claim since the Upper House is already bursting at the seams.

Mr Mitchell, who is 79, is himself standing down at the next election, saying that ageism is now rampant in the party. It is a sad state of affairs when the wisdom and experience gained over decades by seasoned parliamentarians is now curtly brushed aside. As Mr Mitchell said: “The bright, bushy-tailed new boys and girls think they know it all.”

Well, they don’t.

I AM beginning to suspect that Members of Parliament believe they are a cut above the rest of us. Mark Simmonds, a relatively obscure Tory MP, resigned as a Foreign Office Minister and is going to quit Parliament at the next General Election, moaning that his six-figure salary (plus perks) is insufficient.

Meanwhile, his fellow Conservative MP, the chatterbox Nadine Dorries, leaves us with the impression that she thinks MPs have a right to a pad in Westminster.

Well, I have news for them both. Thousands work in the centre of the city, on a fraction of these MPs’ earnings, but have the good sense to live comfortably and more cheaply in the suburbs. They commute without complaining. Would it be too undignified for MPs to do the same?

Chris Moncrieff is a former political editor of the Press Association.