Together, through the ages of the world, we have fought the long defeat

I’m a huge fan of Nigel Farage. In a landscape dominated by trimmers and careerists, he is a patriot who has gone into public life from the best and sincerest of motives. I feel for him as he weighs his options in advance of the Eastleigh by-election – a by-election which offers him no good outcomes.
Consider, first, the possibility that he polls badly. It could well happen. Maria Hutchings, who fought the seat for the Conservatives last time, is a popular local candidate. Although in no sense a hardline Rightist, she signed the People’s Pledge a year ago, long before an In/Out referendum became party policy, and would vote to come out if there were a referendum tomorrow. She has campaigned vigorously, albeit in moderate language, for stricter immigration controls. As for gay marriage, UKIP’s other current issue, I’d be surprised if Maria supports the idea: in an understated and English way, she is a devout Catholic.

If UKIP failed to live up to expectations – and expectations, following the Barnsley, Rotherham and Middlesborough by-elections, are high – observers would conclude that it had peaked: that David Cameron’s adoption of its key policy, namely an In/Out referendum, had marked its high point.
Consider, next, the less likely possibility that Nigel won outright. True, it would be an astonishing triumph. But it would remove Nigel from the European Parliament, which is where UKIP’s focus has always been. Without his leadership there, the party would struggle. And what would be the odds of Nigel holding Eastleigh at the next general election? He would have two years in the House of Commons, but would then be without any elected office. UKIP would shrivel in his absence.

The third possibility is that UKIP does well enough to tip the seat in favour of the Euro-fanatical Lib Dems, but not well enough to win it. This is, in many ways, the worst outcome of all. UKIP would have demonstrated, in the clearest possible way, that the only practical consequence of voting for it was to block supporters of an In/Out referendum from winning parliamentary representation.

It’s hard not to think of Galadriel’s wistful lament when the One Ring is carried into Lothlórien:
Do you not see now wherefore your coming is to us as the footstep of Doom? For if you fail, then we are laid bare to the Enemy. Yet if you succeed, then our power is diminished, and Lothlórien will fade, and the tides of Time will sweep it away. We must depart into the West, or dwindle to a rustic folk of dell and cave, slowly to forget and to be forgotten.

The fourth option, of course, is not to contest the seat at all, in which case some people will call him chicken. But the charge won’t stick: not even Nigel Farage’s fiercest critics seriously think he’s a coward. He could simply announce that, because one of the other candidates backed UKIP's chief policies, he was prepared to stand aside in her favour. The onus would then be on the Conservatives to reciprocate.

What all these scenarios illustrate, of course, is the need for the kind of accommodation among the Eurosceptics which Toby Young suggested yesterday – but which has, sadly, been scorned by both sides.

It's maddening. Nigel ought to be, not just an MP, but an MP in a party that can realistically implement its programme. UKIP supporters deserve to be more than a rustic folk of dell and cave. Conservatives ought to be making every effort to appeal to those activists who have thrown their energies behind the libertarian party. All supporters of national sovereignty should be working toward a Canada-style reconciliation.

I don’t expect a rapprochement this side of the European elections: UKIP has too much at stake in them. But there will then be a few months in which those who want an In/Out referendum will need to decide what is the best way to secure that outcome at the general election. If we can’t work together then, like Galadriel, we will diminish and go into the West.