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28 September 2014updated 06 Aug 2021 2:37pm

“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.

By Anoosh Chakelian

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.

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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.

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