farageflagPolitics is a strange game. It’s also definitely treated as a game by the participants, albeit a serious one, and the players’ moves regularly have hidden objectives and curious consequences. Right now one smart thing, in a cynical gamesmanship sense, that Labour could do at a UK level is to unleash their fire against UKIP.

As discussed here before, Bonnie Meguid has made a compelling argument about the impact of larger, established parties’ three main tactics when dealing with arriviste parties like the Greens, the hard right, and what she calls the “ethno-territorials” (nationalist or regionalist parties).

First, the big parties can choose to ignore the upstarts, which can help, she argues, if you want them to go away, because silence on “their” issue reduces the perceived salience of that issue in the public mind.

Second, the established parties can attempt to steal the newcomers’ political ideas, another move which can depress their support. This tactic was on grisly display when Nick Griffin went on Question Time and the representatives of the three largest Westminster parties queued up to spout disgraceful versions of “of course there’s a problem with immigration, but..”.

Third, broadsides can be unleashed. This what might be seen as counter-intuitive, but nothing boosts a new party like getting brickbats from the establishment, provided their response to it is relatively temperate.

Meguid’s key example here is from France, where the Socialists attacked Le Pen and simultaneously constructed situations to exaggerate the Front National’s victimhood. Their logic, which worked up to a point, was that the FN would take votes from both sides, sure, but they’d take disproportionately more from the established right, giving the Socialists an edge. Of course, the culmination of this folly was a Presidential runoff between Chirac and Le Pen in 2002, and the blame for this crisis was rarely laid at the correct door.

Over the last few years the nature of the hard right in British politics, or at least the right-of-the-Tories, has changed. Support for the BNP curved high enough to give them a mini electoral hey-day, starting in 2002, the year they picked up their first three councillors, through to 2009 when Griffin and Brons were elected to the European Parliament and 57 BNP councillors were returned.

From that point onwards, perhaps as a result of the fallout between those two MEPs (amusing YouTube here), it was downhill all the way, with just three BNP councillors remaining after the 2012 locals, plus Griffin in Europe – Brons having left the party that year.

Pulling the French Socialists’ trick with the BNP would have been hard for Labour to do, and besides, the BNP primarily took votes from white working-class ex-Labour voters.

But UKIP are a different matter altogether, despite the shared obsession with immigration and a range of other hard-right policy crossovers with the BNP. UKIP are largely seen as more respectable, not least because they definitely attract a different class of voter, and now they’re regularly polling in third place above the Lib Dems.

If Miliband were to focus a bit of fire on them, to use Labour’s current pro-European credentials as a base from which to bash Farage and his party, the rewards could be substantial. Cameron’s delayed referendum (and declaration that he wants a settlement with the EU that he can campaign in favour for) will never go far enough for UKIP, the Tory headbangers, or indeed most of the voters who swither between the two.

It’s win-win for Labour, strategically. Either the Tories move further right on the issue and cede the centre ground, or they don’t and UKIP keep chipping away at their right flank. It’s cynical, of course, and if conducted with enough vigour it would probably consolidate UKIP in third place across England. But it would be defensible, given it would look like a defence of internationalism and solidarity. The fact that Farage would be seen to sport an ever-broader Pooterish grin would hardly be laid at Miliband’s door.

And imagine a situation where UKIP get into any pre-2015 leaders’ debates. If the polls hold, a case could be made for it. Labour could even argue for that, high-risk though it would be in terms of future precedent, and in doing so they could hope to be seen to be on the side of democratic values rather than opportunism.

It’d still be unlikely to happen, not least because it’d be grossly unfair on those parties who already have MPs but who would still be excluded, but the media love a process argument, and the debate about the debates will certainly make quite a splash next time whatever happens.

If UKIP were to take even half the vote share they currently score in the national polls, a Labour victory would be almost guaranteed, and, ironically, Britain’s (or the rUK’s) place in Europe protected for another cycle.