How many more Tories will jump ship to UKIP?
Tribal Tories: scream, ignore, insult, denigrate - it doesn't matter. While Cameron pushes, UKIP will pull and many more defections will come
The defection of Roger Helmer and Alexandra Swann to UKIP on Saturday has been met by an astonishingly complacent attitude from many.
Of course, up until his defection from the Conservative Party, many Tories would regularly cite Helmer as an example of an elected Tory on a national level who was anti-EU. This is a regular tactic of insecure anti-EU Conservatives who straw clutch every time they are challenged by UKIPers as to the fact they are probably in the wrong Party.
Roger Helmer was a rare species; a gentleman who wore a blue rosette, represented Cameron’s Conservatives in the European Parliament and simultaneously talked about the need for pure and unadulterated EU withdrawal without equivocation. This, they claimed, demonstrated how a tiny core of anti-EU MPs/MEPs existed within their Party.
Tories would be embarrassed on Cameron’s pathetically weak Euroscepticism – but Helmer! Here was a man who the grassroots were proud of on the issue.
By the time I entered the reception of UKIP’s Spring Conference on Friday night, however, many Tories had changed their tune on the social media sites – Helmer was past it; out of touch.
Chris Heaton-Harris MP, a man who worked extremely closely with Helmer for a number of years as a fellow MEP, said that he thought Helmer an honourable man but had been mistaken. How joining the only anti-EU Party around, after trying to step down and being mucked around by the Party hierarchy, makes one less honourable; I don’t know. I guess you’ll have to ask the Tory spin machine that one.
Anyway the truth is, the nastier people are about a ‘defector’ the more the defection has stung ex-colleagues. This defection hurt what I call the ‘Establishment Right’ in this country. You know the types – they want lower taxes, Euroscepticism, selective education and the rest, but they sacrifice all of that in a heartbeat just so we can have a Prime Minister who wears a blue rosette no matter what their subsequent actions are. They call it pragmatism; the public generally regard it as cowardly and lacking in true grit or principle. Thus, the country ends up with little measureable change and these people defend a tepid government because their Party is in power (or at least half-so).
This collective’s criticism of David Cameron has been weak, their acknowledgement of an alternative in UKIP non-existent, and their shunning of Roger Helmer, stunning.
Bear in mind, Helmer has been one of the most recognisable MEPs over the past decade, ever since he was elected in 1999. He was until recently the Chairman of The Freedom Association, a group that is much admired by many young libertarians. I wonder how ‘sound’ the treatment of Helmer will be in the eyes of some of these young anti-EU Tory activists? Perhaps the treatment that Helmer received and his subsequent defection will give them the shot in the arm required to follow.
Helmer’s treatment neatly summarises the level of respect that the top brass in the Tory Party have for anti-EU Conservatives. It didn’t take Helmer’s principled stand for ex-Conservative Future Deputy Chairman Alexandra Swann to make the switch. As even The Guardian has noted, UKIP crowds are getting younger and younger. It is not simply people like Roger Helmer, who have tried for many years to ‘argue from within’ the Tory Party that right-wing policies are not evil, that are joining UKIP. Young people are as well.
David Cameron’s unspectacular approach to reform in general is now inevitably leading to young activists deciding that their idealism belongs alongside a manifesto that promises more – flat taxes, grammar schools, EU withdrawal, a Royal Commission to decide on drug legalisation, binding local referenda for local people. None of these can be spun. They all mean something, and each of them would radically change the country we live in.
Of course, if the likes of The Telegraph don’t want to cover the UKIP Conference or defections, there is more that UKIP needs to do. Nigel Farage noted that he was listening to Swann and younger members when the repeated talk of broadening the Party’s focus and agenda cropped up again and again. At every UKIP Conference more and more of the speakers press for a greater focus on law and order, education, economic policy and the rest. And, slowly, the Party is shifting in this direction.
Roger Helmer is now the UKIP Spokesman for Industry. Lord Hesketh, a former Tory Treasurer, is Defence Spokesman. Backed up by people such as Stuart Wheeler as Treasurer, the proposition of UKIP is surely much more credible than it was back in 2006 when Nigel Farage first took over as Leader.
So, tribal Tories: scream, ignore, insult, denigrate. It increasingly doesn’t matter. Your Party Leader is the Prime Minister and the changes the UK are seeing are generally wrong, timid or wholly unnecessary.
While Cameron pushes, UKIP will pull and many more defections will come. It now doesn’t seem likely but inevitable.
Michael Heaver is a UKIP activist and blogger. He tweets at @Michael_Heaver
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