Richard North, 05/10/2004  

They must have had fun at the Daily Telegraph last night, getting in the scoop on Sykes dropping UKIP.

Courtesy of the wonders of the internet, you can see what the intended front page story was – a preview of Howard’s conference speech for today, headed "Howard pledges to restore trust in government", not dissimilar to The Times lead: "You can trust me, Tory leader vows".

It must have been one of those delicious "hold the front page" moments when the Sykes pinned his colours to the mast, giving the Telegraph its front page "Millionaire backer drops UKIP".

As for the detail, we learn that John Redwood had been courting the elusive millionaire, but what came over in the Newsnight interview – Sykes’ pleasure that fishing powers were to be restored – did not make the print copy. This, the assembled hacks have missed one of the key points – the influence of the Common fisheries Policy on British politics, all those years after Heath dismissed them as "electorally insignificant."

What also now becomes clear is the motivation behind Nigel Farage’s motion to the UKIP conference last Saturday, in seeking approval to make deals with Eurosceptic Tory MPs. It is after all, Farage who has the closest relationship with Sykes and he must have known or suspected what the repercussions would be if his party took on an overtly anti-Tory line.

On the face of it, therefore, Kilroy has played it very badly and, while the victory was his on the day, he will be held responsible for the loss of UKIP’s most important backer.

However, Kilroy has always talked of having multiple backers to support a general election campaign and it can hardly have escaped Labour strategists that one of their best electoral assets at this time is a well-funded UKIP under the leadership of Kilroy. After all, shadow home secretary David Davis has calculated that a UKIP challenge could cost the Tories up to 50 seats.

Thus, arranging carefully laundered funding from a wealthy New Labour sympathiser, attached directly to Kilroy, would be an astute move.

Whether the UKIP rank and file would tolerate this is a moot point. But many times in this Blog, it has been pointed out that UKIP is primarily an anti-Tory rather than an anti-EU party and in calling for delegated to "kill" the Conservative Party, Kilroy was perhaps more in touch with the membership than the current leadership.

And he will have had plenty of material to work with from Howard’s conference speech today. In an address when he made tackling crime the number one priority, his answer on "Europe" was a "new approach". Yet all we got was Redwood’s plan to trade off an agreement to allow other member states to pursue further integration against their agreement to allow repatriation of certain powers: again only the Social Chapter, the CFP and "paying more aid from London rather than Brussels".

Despite Sykes’ Damascene conversion, therefore, the game is still afoot. Significantly, to achieve their abysmal fourth place in Hartlepool, the Conservatives spent £97,000 – against the little more than £5,000 spent by UKIP to achieve third. Given that UKIP can make such a little go such a long way, it would be unwise, as yet, to write off the party, or Kilroy.

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