Sunday 7 April 2013

Tory call to work with Ukip or lose General Election

The head of a Tory grassroots campaign says the party must open talks with Ukip to prevent a split vote and a Labour victory at the election.

Ben Harris-Quinney, director of Conservative Grassroots, says it is time for a “mature discussion” to stop Ukip fielding candidates in seats vital for a Tory majority.

While David Cameron and Ukip leader Nigel Farage share a mutual disdain, Mr Harris-Quinney said party members would be “far more comfortable” in coalition with Ukip than they are with the Lib Dems.

He warned that without such a pact, the party could be torn apart if votes lost to Ukip cost the Tories victory in 2015.

In his first interview since Conservative Grassroots was set up, he said: “I would say that if a pact is not done with Ukip it is going to be very difficult to prevent Ukip from stealing the Conservative Party’s wind on every occasion. I think there needs to be a mature discussion. I don’t believe anyone in the Conservative Party now does not see Ukip as a real threat or a significant force in British politics.

“Do you challenge them on policy issues? Well, obviously not because Ukip is currently setting the agenda. Or do you welcome them into the fold?

“I don’t think that will happen but I think it should happen and Cameron and the modernisers need to realise that the grassroots of the Conservative Party are far more comfortable working in unison with Ukip than they do with the Lib Dems.

“That is just a fact of life, because we are all conservatives.” The new group was formed earlier this year amid growing fears about the direction the Tory party was taking.

At its first meeting at last month’s Conservative Spring Forum, many long-term party members warned that the Tory campaign HQ was treating its rank-and-file with disdain.

There has been a growing “disconnect” between modernisers leading the party and members since Mr Cameron became leader in 2005.

More than half have quit and membership, now at 130,000, is so low critics fear the party is losing local knowledge vital to the election campaign.

Tensions have reached a head with the Prime Minister’s determination to back same-sex marriage, in defiance of his own Parliamentary party and the majority of members.

Mr Harris-Quinney, chairman of the centre-right Bow Group, said the same-sex marriage debate was a “symptom” of the problem rather than the cause, but he urged Mr Cameron to drop the Bill.

He said Conservative Grassroots was not designed to force a change of leadership but to campaign for a return to core values. It will draw up its own manifesto of policies in time for the autumn party conference in Manchester.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage “distrusts” Mr Cameron and has ruled out a pact as long as he is Tory leader. Mr Cameron, in turn, branded Ukip members “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.

Mr Harris-Quinney said: “As Nigel Farage has said, ‘There are two wings of the Conservative Party and they agree on almost nothing’. That cannot go on. A house divided cannot stand. There is a danger the party may split. I hope it doesn’t. I hope it returns to core values and that will mean moving much closer to Ukip.”


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