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Brussels Diary: Senior Tory MEP admits UKIP poses direct threat to Tory election hopes

Senior Tory MEP Charles Tannock says UKIP cost Conservatives 20-30 seats at last general election

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Charles Tannock MEP
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Alexandra Swann
On 27 October 2012 12:26

All in all, a positive week for UKIP.  Gender quotas were thrown off the Brussels agenda, for the time being at least; Austrian MEP and head of the group in which the British Labour Party sits, Hannes Swoboda, has called for an in/out referendum in the UK because he is sick of Brits kicking off against their desired EU budget increases; UKIP gained yet another councillor from the Conservatives and two rather encouraging statements have emerged from Tories in the form of a leaked document and this week’s poll by Tory grandee Lord Ashcroft.

In my last column, I wrote about CCHQ’s decision to have my Tory conference pass refused, rendering it impossible for me to speak at the fringe meeting discussing whether or not UKIP is a threat to the Conservatives.

One of the Tories I was due to debate with, a debate I have had many a time with the same man in the taverns of Brussels, was well known Conservative MEP Dr Charles Tannock. 

Dr Tannock has a particularly feisty manner of debating; it is safe to say that he is not a secret UKIP type still hiding within the safe, warm Conservative closet. If asked, I would have said that his answer to the question to be debated would be a resounding “no”, UKIP are not a threat.  But, yet again, I was wrong.

According to this leaked document, Charles does indeed see UKIP as a threat. In fact, to quote, “UKIP poses a direct threat to Conservative re-election prospects” and “UKIP probably lost us 20-30 seats at the last General election n 2010… Some estimate that 75 percent of UKIP voters were previously Conservative voters.”

Not ones to kick a gift horse in the mouth, we over at UKIP were delighted to read Dr Tannock’s thoughts and couldn’t agree more. He is correct to note that we retained our councillors in the recent council elections and, more importantly perhaps, we are coming second in a significant proportion of local by-elections. We have had a veritable stream of council defections this year, including one this morning, and we are fielding full slates at next year’s May elections.

I am standing for Surrey County Council against the Tory former mayor which makes for wonderful awkwardness on the rare occasion I accompany my Father to Farnham Conservative Club for the Sunday meat raffle (the height of FCC’s weekly social calendar). 

But better still, Tannock writes UKIP polling at even 8 percent could be critical, rightly implying that our share of the vote may well be far above 8 percent by the next General Election. Lord Ashcroft’s poll on the Corby by-election, published this week, shows that our share of the vote even here has tripled since the beginning of the campaign to 6 percent. As ever, these days we are polling above the Liberal Democrats, cementing our position as the third party.

The results are even more encouraging because UKIP were unprompted in the survey -- unprompted polls typically depress the UKIP share of the vote by 2-3 percentage points suggesting our election result will be far more positive than Ashcroft’s poll suggests.

This is not surprising; I’ve spent most of my spare time campaigning in the bitter Corby cold and the response on the doorstop has been terrific. Last weekend, a chap driving a Tesco van stopped to ask for leaflets to give to his friends, and people regularly hoot car horns and give a thumbs up to our purple rosettes; I have never known such a positive response in a political campaign (aside, of course, from NO2AV) and I hear the campaign office is permanently buzzing.

Whether or not UKIP manage to get our first Member of Parliament or finish second or a very close third, one thing is definite; the Conservatives are headed for certain electoral demise and everyone knows it.

I met Christine Emmet last week when she was leafleting with Chris Heaton-Harris MP and she was absolutely lovely, so in a way it is a shame – a Tory is always preferable to Labour – but unfortunately Cameron’s decisions, or lack of them, will translate to his perfectly able candidate taking a terrible bashing on polling day.

As the PCC, Corby and North Croydon by elections draw near, UKIP continue to rise, but unfortunately so do Labour.  These elections will be in part a reaction to Cameron’s first two years in government and I think we all know the answer already.

Alexandra Swann works in the European Parliament and tweets @AlexandraLSwann

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