Richard North, 08/10/2004  

Not days after the "Tory killer" motion from the UKIP conference, Stafford UKIP has announced that it is refusing to toe the party line. Instead of fielding its own candidate at the general election, it is proposing to support Tory Eurosceptic David Chambers.

The party wants to avoid splitting the Eurosceptic vote, thus allowing Labour’s David Kidney to keep his seat.

Says Paul Gilbert, UKIP’s Stafford constituency association chairman, "It would be a pointless exercise for the UKIP to field candidates in constituencies with sitting Eurosceptic MPs or where there are stronger Eurosceptic candidates with a greater possibility than the UKIP of winning that seat. The probability will be to split the Eurosceptic vote and return a pro-European to Westminster. This is certainly self defeating."

Mr Gilbert said Stafford members would now use their energies to support Victor Chell, chairman of the South Staffordshire constituency, in his efforts to dislodge MP and pro European Sir Patrick Cormack.

The Tory challenger was delighted with the decision, confirming that he was a Eurosceptic who supported Michael Howard in wanting to pull powers back from Brussels. "If we were unable to do that then I personally would call for a referendum for the British people", he said.

Meanwhile, on the Lesley Riddoch Show on BBC Radio Scotland today, Peter Duncan, the last Tory MP in Scotland, was challenged on how the Conservatives would force their EU renegotiation agenda. Parroting his party line, he offered the "Thatcher handbag" ploy - arguing that she got the rebate "because we stood firm" - only to have his argument comprehensively trashed by UKIP’s Peter Troy, who was also on the programme.

He, in turn, was only echoing the sentiment expressed by Nigel Farage in last night’s Question Time, sentiments which also found their way into the Times today, in a letter from Marcus Watney, who wrote:
Michael Howard’s promise to renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy is a cruel deception: success would require unanimity from all 24 other members, including Spain, which is very happy with the present arrangement. Unilateral action would incur heavy fines.
With Howard claiming in his closing speech to the conference that, "Only by being honest can we hope to win people’s trust", this – at best – disingenuous line on the EU does not exactly inspire confidence.

Speaking with a number of Tory MPs this morning, they were acutely aware of this Achilles heel and are acutely nervous about it. Knowing how the media works, once they sense the inconsistency, they will keep worrying at it. Once they draw blood, skittery Tory MPs will start looking to their own salvation and Howard may find that he needs to hone his cat herding skills.

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