Who's writing Tory manifesto? David Cameron or Nigel Farage?
'Work for your dole' aimed at winning back Ukip deserters - but why turn right when Ed is turning left?
GEORGE OSBORNE admitted this morning that the right-wing policies being unveiled by the Tories in Manchester this week on immigration, the long-term unemployed and the EU are designed to appeal to Tory defectors to Ukip.
The Chancellor ruled out any formal electoral pact with Ukip but he made it clear that the Tory 'offer' is designed to win back the support that has haemorrhaged to Nigel Farage's party.
Yet he denied that the Tories were lurching to the right, saying on Radio 4's Today programme that he believes policies "sometimes called right-wing" actually have "a very broad political appeal".
Osborne will be wheeling out his own version of the US workfare programme today, forcing the jobless to take on community work for no pay or lose their benefits.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, will later announce new plans to kick out illegal immigrants before they get a chance to appeal.
David Cameron is expected to set out his central appeal to Ukip deserters in his own speech on Wednesday, by laying out his plans for an in-out referendum on the EU after the election.
Osborne might insist that the Tories are fighting on the centre ground, but under the direction of Lynton Crosby, the Tory election strategist, Cameron and Osborne are taking a calculated risk in swinging right to win back the Ukip brigade. They could alienate the middle-ground voters turned off by Labour's swing to the left under Ed Miliband. (As Tory peer Lord Ashcroft said this morning, Miliband has opened up "clear blue water" with the Tories with his Brighton speech.)
David Frum, an adviser to US President George W Bush, said the Republicans had encountered the same problem with the far-right Tea Party. "The danger the Conservatives now face is they're so mesmerised by the fear of losing three to four per cent of vote to the right that they end up overbalancing and losing eight, ten, 12 points to the left," Frum told Tory 'Bright Blue' activists in Manchester.
The problem is that the same YouGov poll that shows Ed Miliband getting a boost from his promise of an energy price cap also puts Ukip third (on 13 per cent) ahead of the Lib Dems (on nine per cent).
Both the Tories and UKIP know that if this continues, they will split the right-wing vote and let Labour in.
To avoid that happening, Farage says in The Times today that he would support local deals between the Conservatives and Ukip at the 2015 election to field only one candidate in key marginals.
Naming Tory Euro-sceptics Peter Bone and Jacob Rees-Mogg as the sort of Tories he could do business with, he said that if they, or others like them, chose to propose running on a joint ticket, "then I would leave the local Ukip association to have those negotiations".
But George Osborne isn't having it. "There aren't going to be any deals with UKIP," he told the Today programme. "There aren't going to be Conservative-Ukip candidates locally."
Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, said: "I think the Chancellor put to bed once and for all Conservative HQ tolerating Conservative-Ukip deals."
Instead, the Tory conference in Manchester is clearly designed to avoid the need for pacts by winning back the deserters to Ukip with new policies. Farage may be hanging around the Tory conference "like a bad smell" as The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh puts it, and he may have been declared 'persona non grata' by Cameron (they can't stand each other), but he is, in effect, helping to write the Tory election manifesto. ·