TORIES FEAR INFILTRATION BY UKIP MEMBERS warned a headline in The Times this week. That journal of record has been slow on the uptake, but this is now a settled trend. People are joining the Conservative Party in large and growing numbers, not because they believe in it—au contraire—but because they reckon a leadership contest is coming soon, and they want to have a say this time. The last contest, which led to the triumph of Theresa May, was a fiasco. The election came down to two candidates, one of whom, Andrea Leadsom, was consumed with remorse for some crass remarks she had made on the problems of childless women. She stood down, leaving May the unchallenged victrix. This will not happen again.
Enter UKIP, stage right. The United Kingdom Independence Party is traditionalist, right-wing, and anti-EU. They are the provisional wing of the Conservative Party. It had its greatest success in 2014, when the party beat out of sight all other UK parties in the EU elections. This was a virtual referendum on leaving the EU, and David Cameron, justly appalled at this result, then offered a proper referendum in the belief that he would win it. He didn't. This was a total triumph for UKIP, and the party's membership rapidly dwindled. The feeling was, job done. Off we go.
But wait. The performance of Theresa May has seemed increasingly suspicious, not to say treacherous. Her Chequers Plan for the final phase of the EU Leave negotiation has been denounced on all sides, Remainers and Leavers, those Guelphs and Ghibellines of politics. Theresa May stands for BRINO, an intolerable outcome. So the Conservative Party and the Government are approaching a shoot-out climax, which in the nature of things must happen this fall. The bookmakers say that Boris Johnson is the likely winner, at 5-1. The alarm bells are changing to klaxons. Meantime the Conservative Party is filling up with new members who, like Momentum in the Labour Party, seek only a change of policy. Whatever happens, the word is that the Provos are coming.
Ralph Berry writes from England.