Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Will Thatcher memories drive Tory voters to Ukip?

Financial Times - 10th April 2013

By Elizabeth Rigby

Tories will not be thinking much about next month’s local elections as they gather in parliament to partake in collective mourning over the death of Margaret Thatcher.

The danger for David Cameron is that the wave of nostalgia for her will only serve to divide his party even more, when he needs it the least. As Lynton Crosby remarks, divided parties don’t win elections. And the infighting within the Tories over the past year is doing little more than help push their supporters into the arms of Ukip.

Cameron’s initial fightback against the rise of Nigel Farage’s party came in January with the promise of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.

David Bannerman, Tory MEP and former Ukip chairman, wrote a briefing note for Conservative party activists back in February as he prepared the ground for the May 2 elections. In it he said:

"I genuinely believe that this [referendum promise] means that UKIP’s work is done. It is time to heal the fissure on the right, and to unite against the undemocratic and federalist left."

But then the Tories were trounced by Ukip in Eastleigh as Farage’s lot won 28 per cent of the vote and pushed the Tories into third place. Since then, the Conservatives’ strategy has become more vicious.

Nigel Farage and his fellow Ukip MEPs are to be attacked as a bunch of shirkers by Conservative activists, as the Tory party mounts a counter-attack on the anti-European party in the wake of the Eastleigh by-election debacle.

Internal Conservative party briefing notes are urging local associations to expose the “poor performance” of Ukip MEPs when they canvass voters ahead of next month’s local elections and next year’s European elections.

Charles Tannock, a Conservative MEP, has told London regional activists that the Tories must expose Ukip MEPs’ poor performance in Europe in next year’s London council and European Parliament elections.

“The attendance of Ukip MEPs at committee and voting sessions is patchy at best”, wrote Mr Tannock in an internal briefing note seen by the Financial Times.

“Ukip love to grandstand by making colourful speeches but refuse to get involved with the hard slog of the legislative processes which MEPs are elected to do by shunning taking on reports and opinions.”

Ukip has already gained more 30 local council seats in the past three months, underlining its reputation as the protest party of the moment. It has attracted more than 20 council defectors from the Conservatives. Mr Tannock estimates that Ukip probably lost the Tories 20 to 30 seats in the last election when the party won just 3.1 per cent of the vote – it is polling double digits now.

There is little chance of rapprochement between the two parties ahead of 2015: Nigel Farage has said he will only strike a pre-election pact between Ukip and the Conservatives if the later ditch David Cameron and hold a quick referendum on Europe.

The Tories are bracing themselves for heavy losses in May and a surge in Ukip will only serve to put futher pressure on the leadership. Cameron will be hoping that the wave of nostalgia for Thatcher may bring some of her followers back into Tory, rather than Ukip arms.