Grant Shapps attacked Ukip and defectors at Conservative party conference today. Photo: Getty
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"He lied and he lied and he lied": how are the Tories tackling defections to Ukip?

The Tories need to play on the fact that Ukip is still not a credible party.

As your Party Chairman, I share your deep sense of betrayal and anger.

We have been let down by somebody who has repeatedly lied to his constituents, and to you:

Who said one thing, and then did another.

Last month, he looked us in the eye, and said only our Prime Minister could secure a say for the British people on Europe.

Last week, he insisted he would be campaigning for an outright Conservative victory.

Two days ago, he was busy leaving phone messages, claiming he was enthusiastic about joining us to campaign for Rachel Maclean here in Birmingham today.

He lied and he lied and he lied.

This is what the Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps told Tory party conference in his speech this afternoon. He was referring to the actions of Mark Reckless MP, the erstwhile Tory MP who announced his defection to Ukip at its conference yesterday.

Shapps has set the tone for his party’s conference this week by coming down hard on the Tory defector. The leadership is willing to address defections, but is not wavering in its narrative about returning to Downing Street in 2015 – and with a majority this time.

One key part of the Tories’ political counter to Ukip is to emphasise that it is a credible party, whereas Ukip is not. Reckless, when he jumped ship, suggested to Ukip conference that he was joining its party because he sees it as a credible option for Britain’s future. But the Tories should really play hard on the fact that Ukip – though it gave the appearance of a buoyant party on the up during the first of its annual conferences that the media has taken (somewhat) seriously – is still a mess when it comes to a consistent message.

There are many examples of Ukip U-turns that show the party still hasn’t organised itself, in spite if its growing popularity. Today, Steve Crowther, Ukip’s executive chair, told John Pienaar on Radio 5 Live that its manifesto at the last election was “extremely broad and well-worked”, whereas the party leader Nigel Farage has famously dismissed it as “drivel”.

Another recent example is from this Friday, when Suzanne Evans, Ukip’s deputy chairman, seemed to change her position on airstrikes against Islamic State in a matter of seconds, having been told Farage opposes them. She had previously expressed her support for them. A story is now developing about whether Farage is at odds with his party on this matter.

Then there is the matter of Ukip’s policies. Announcements at their conference show a wholesale departure from its previous plans. For example, its enthusiasm for a flat tax has been undermined by a range of complex taxes mooted at its conference, which are intended to appeal to “blue-collar” voters. Then there’s the NHS, in which Ukip is now championing investment, in spite of Farage commenting in January: “Only UKIP dares cut spending on NHS and pensions.” There is also a new insistence that the party will not be privatising the health service, something that was not in their narrative before.

These are just a few cases of the flip-flopping Ukip has been doing on its rise to prominence, and is a clear sign of a party going for the “all things to all men” tactic. This won’t always wash, however, if it continues to revel in smugly snatching Tory personnel for itself. Labour’s attack line against Ukip, “More Tory than the Tories”, becomes increasingly convincing the more Ukip embraces Conservative defectors. Ukip’s U-turns to more palatable policies for working-class voters won’t be able to overshadow this.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.