Tories Split On Europe

13:22 Monday 26th November 2012
World At One
BBC Radio 4

MARTHA KEARNEY: The Leader of UKIP Nigel Farage described David Cameron as the major obstacle to any kind of discussion or deal with UKIP. Speaking on the Daily Politics on BBC2 earlier, Nigel Farage said a pact would only be possible with a change of Leader. (TAPE)
NIGEL FARAGE: If Cameron went and somebody pragmatic, grown-up and sensible like Michael Gove was Leader, you might think then we could sit round the table and have a proper discussion. (LIVE)
MARTHA KEARNEY: The idea of an electoral pact had originally been mooted by Party Vice-Chairman Michael Fabricant. (TAPE)
MICHAEL FABRICANT: I think we’re in a time of different politics. And this is not a coalition, don’t forget. I’m simply talking about an electoral pact which says that if UKIP don’t stand against us at the next election, we would give a firm undertaking to have an in/out referendum after that election.(LIVE)
MARTHA KEARNEY: Michael Fabricant. So how much of a threat is UKIP to Conservative seats? John Curtice is Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, and one of our foremost authorities on voting behaviour. So just looking at individual seats John Curtice, is there a risk for the Conservatives from UKIP?
PROF JOHN CURTICE: Oh there is no doubt that there is a risk to UKIP from the Conservatives. (sic) If we look at the opinion polls at the moment they now suggest that UKIP on average probably running at around 6% or so of the vote, compared with the 3% they got back in 2010. And that itself was a record score. Now some opinion polls put it higher than others. There’s particularly a difference between the Internet and the non-Internet polls. But certainly UKIP certainly have made substantial advances since 2010. And what all of those opinion polls tell us is that the people who are switching to UKIP, or have switched to UKIP since 2010, are disproportionately Conservative. Around 7% of the Conservative vote of 2010 is now in the UKIP camp, whereas virtually no Labour voters at all have made that switch. So if you then just do a relatively simple piece of arithmetic, you say well actually this implies that of the 3% increase in the UKIP support that the polls suggest that have existed since 2010, probably about 2% of that comes from the Conservatives, and virtually none of it from Labour. And you then translate, well what might that mean in terms of seats, well certainly if that had happened back in 2010, that’s about 13 Conservative seats would have been lost. And then of course you do have to bear in mind that that original 3% UKIP vote in 2010, again there’s plenty of evidence out there to suggest that that disproportionately came f rom voters who would otherwise be expected to vote Conservative. So certainly I think you can get towards the bottom end of Michael Fabricant’s estimate of the impact of UKIP. He suggested between 20 and 40. I think it’s closer to 20 than to 40. Given that the difficulties the Conservative Party faces in winning an overall majority, given the way our electoral system operates, given it has to be much further ahead of Labour than Labour has to be of the Conservatives in order to win an overall majority, that’s the kind of penalty that the Conservatives could ill afford to see realised in 2015.
MARTHA KEARNEY: Yes, and certainly 20 seats is a sizable number. But is there any evidence of why these voters are moving to UKIP? Is it because they’re dissatisfied over the lack of a referendum on Europe?
PROF JOHN CURTICE: That I think is the much more difficult question to answer. Certainly what is true is that the rise in UKIP support during the course of this year has coincided with a decline in Conservative support. And I think one has to bear in mind here, given now that the Liberal Democrats are in coalition with the Conservatives, if and when Conservatives are unhappy with an incumbent government, an incumbent Conservative government, they can no longer use the Liberal Democrats as a haven of protest in the way that they’ve done in mid-term in the past. And that therefore certainly dissatisfied Conservatives, dissatisfied with George Osborne, dissatisfied with some of the mistakes of the Government. The question to ask is where might they go. And therefore, to some degree, the answer is well UKIP is the most obvious place for them to go. Now in saying that UKIP’s Euroscepticism, the fact that it’s on the right of British politics, therefore it makes it an acceptable haven. But it may well be that the push from the Conservatives because of their perceived incompetence in government maybe at least as important as the specific Euroscepticism of UKIP itself.
MARTHA KEARNEY: John Curtice. Thank you. Well, to debate this issue, I’m joined now by Grant Shapps, the Conservative Party Chairman, and also by Stewart Jackson. He stepped down from his post as a Parliamentary Private Secretary after defying a 3-line whip to vote for a referendum on Europe. Grant Shapps, you heard the voting analysis there from John Curtice. 20 seats is a sizable number, isn’t it? Isn’t it worth entertaining at least the idea of a pact with UKIP.
GRANT SHAPPS: Well look I want to win the next election outright of course for Conservatives, so we have an outright majority, and we don’t have to be in coalition. But I want to do that with Conservative candidates, fighting and winning on their own ground, and on their own terms. And that’s exactly what we are going to do. So I can categorically rule out any form of electoral pact with UKIP or anyone else.
MARTHA KEARNEY: Stewart Jackson?
STEWART JACKSON: Well I’m a Conservative too, and I believe that the UK’s best interests are served by a Conservative Government, of course. And I’ve no intention of going anywhere else. But it’s undoubtedly the case that UKIP has a capacity to do very serious damage to the Conservative Party. You only need to look at the Corby by-election, where they got 14% from nowhere. They came second in Barnsley in the by-election. They may very well do quite well in the County Council elections qand the European elections. I think it’s incumbent for David Cameron to show real leadership here, and take a leaf out of the book of Harold Wilson in 1974, who said we should have a referendum to settle once and for all this very very big cross-party consensual issue. And we need an in/out referendum. And were we to have one on polling day, I think we would reunite the right. We would pay due diligence to the Conservative voters and Members of Parliament, who believe in this policy. He needs to make a big bold offer to Eurosceptic voters. And that I think would solve the issue.
MARTHA KEARNEY: Grant Shapps, don’t you need to lure some of these people back? Because arguably UKIP did damage to the Conservatives in 2010, and since then their vote has doubled to around 6% of the vote. Clearly not enough to win Westminster constituencies of their own, but enough to cause damage to your candidates.
GRANT SHAPPS: Yes I’s read some caution into .. as I’m sure Stewart would as well ..into looking at mid-term polling for a minority party and then projecting it forward. People vote, when they’re voting for a government, in a different way to in mid-terms. But I think what we do agree on .. Stewart and I and lots of people listening to this .. in fact I think it’s a mainstream view in Britain .. is that Europe is too bureaucratic, it meddles too much, it costs too much. And so we do need a reformed relationship with Europe. And that’s exactly what we’re proposing. We want to seek a fresh settlement, get fresh consent for it. And do that either next general election or a referendum, which might be cleaner and neater, a simpler way of doing it. So that’s the … that’s the plan, and I suppose in a way ..
MARTHA KEARNEY: Let’s get Stewart Jackson’s response to that though. So what do you think? This is a phrase that we hear again and again, Stewart Jackson, is to get a fresh consent for a new agreement, a new settlement with the European Union.
STEWART JACKSON: Well I agree with that as far as it goes. And Grant and I have discussed this issue. But I do believe that Professor Curtice is right that people are very sceptical of promises. A poll undertaken by Lord Ashcroft not that long ago showed that we’re losing as many votes to UKIP as to Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined. And I think we need to strike out as a political party, rather than a partner in a coalition, and say to people that an in/out referendum on polling day would be the best way forward. Because I would caution, if you look at history, the catastrophe that befell the Canadian Conservatives in 1993, where they were reduced to single figures in the House of Commons in Canada, because of the split on the right. Now that is not far-fetched to say that that could befall us, if we don’t think very very hard about our policy and the offering we make to our naturally conservative voters who are abandoning us in larger numbers.
MARTHA KEARNEY: Well Grant Shapps, that really is the doomsday scenario, isn’t it? Why not offer an in/out referendum? It’s been a long time since one way held.
GRANT SHAPPS: Look, I think Europe needs to work in the interests of this country. That’s why we need to have a reformed Europe. And I think we need to actually try to get that reformed Europe. And one day, if you’re unable to achieve the kind of trading block that you want, the proper single market that this country was involved in pioneering, then of course it’s right to hold other things in reserve. But the first thing you’ve got to …
MARTHA KEARNEY: Oh really? Oh that’s quite interesting. So you think there could be ..
GRANT SHAPPS: Nothing I’ve not said before. (LAUGHS)
MARTHA KEARNEY: You could see an in/out referendum in the next Parliament?
GRANT SHAPPS: No I think the first thing to do, and this has clearly happened .. has to happen in the next Parliament, is to actually work out a better settlement with Europe. Which means you actually have to go and do it. In the first place you actually have to have those discussions. You have to discuss what that settlement would look like. I think to do what Stewart’s suggesting, and jump straight to an in/out referendum, and others suggest, I think is going a step further than you’d want to go at this stage, without having checked out whether you can get the reform.
MARTHA KEARNEY: And Stewart Jackson, of course it takes two to make an agreement. And Nigel Farage said today that David Cameron was a major obstacle. And he was quite keen on the idea of having Michael Gove as Leader, and he thought he was a man that he could do business with.
STEWART JACKSON: Well Nigel Farage is a slick politician masquerading as a statesman. He’s adept at causing as much mischief as possible in the Conservative Party. The problem unfortunately is that he looks and sounds like a Conservative, which is what Michael Fabricant said in his report, which was a good report, and started an open debate. I think we need to sit down as mature politicians on the right and centre right and find out a way that we can stop the drift inevitably to a federal Europe. And a pact may very well do that.
MARTHA KEARNEY: Thank you very much indeed, Stewart Jackson and Grant Shapps.