I’m hearing from a well-placed Conservative party source that Tory chairman Grant Shapps and Conservative HQ are “incredibly concerned” that Chris Kelly – Tory MP for Dudley South – will be next to defect to Ukip.
I understand that the leadership has discovered that Ukip has been “piling on the pressure” for the West Midlands 2010-intaker to jump ship and join Ukip’s ranks, as both Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless have done in the space of two months.
Kelly, a eurosceptic, announced at the beginning of September that he’d be stepping down in 2015, after serving just one term as an MP. He did not give a reason for his decision. When he made his decision to stand down public, he wished Carswell “all the best”:
I won’t be joining Ukip, though I wish Douglas Carswell all the best. He has been a superb MP and it’s honourable to stand for re-election.
A friend and fellow Tory MP, Justin Tomlinson, said at the time:
It’s a boring standing-down story. He’s not interested in Ukip, he’s a big fan of the prime minister, but he’s going back to work for his family business and in time he’ll take over from his father in the firm.
However, according to my source, Ukip has been “essentially haranguing” him to join its party, and has been for some time.
A Ukip spokesman tells me there hasn’t been “a mention of this” from the Ukip leadership, but that defection negotiations are “always a personal and private conversation” and that whatever happens only takes place between “Nigel and whoever the other person is”. Indeed, I hear most Ukip party insiders had no idea about Carswell’s defection until his special joint press conference with Nigel Farage, when he announced it.
Shapps tried to put a positive spin on Kelly standing down as an MP – the ninth 2010-intake Conservative to make such a decision – earlier this month, telling Total Politics magazine:
Chris Kelly is from a business background. He’s interested in life outside Parliament. That’s why he’s been good in Parliament, why he feels he’s got a life ahead of him. It’s a really positive thing.
However, the number of incumbents the Tories will lose due to so many of their new MPs standing down coupled with rumours of defections must be giving Cameron and co a big headache this conference.
I have contacted Kelly but not yet heard from him.