Tim Congdon discusses the implications to the Tories if, as expected, UKIP do well in the European Elections.
What has happened to Britain’s newspapers? (Let us put the BBC to one side, as – far too often nowadays – it has stopped doing its job properly.) Astonishing results have just emerged from two local government elections on 9th January in Haverhill, West Suffolk. In the Haverhill East ward, which gave the Conservatives 55% of the vote last time round (in 2011), UKIP has just won also with 55% of the vote! (UKIP had no candidate in 2011. The Conservatives came second, but with only a quarter of the vote.) In Haverhill West the outcome was even more spectacular, with UKIP taking over 65% of the vote!! See the in depth report here for more comment and discussion of all the local government election results from the beginning of December.)
Yet neither of these results has received any comment in the UK’s national press. What does one say?
View my analysis here in which I point out that in the last few weeks’ local government elections have in fact given more votes to UKIP than the Conservatives. (Of course Labour has a big lead over either the Conservatives or UKIP.) This is the background to the demand from 95 Conservative MPs that Parliament should have an over-ride over all EU legislation. Every one of the 95 MPs must know that a Parliamentary over-ride would breach the EU treaties agreed since 1973 by the British government and immediately create a constitutional crisis within the EU. The demand for a Parliamentary over-ride is in fact intended to initiate a process that would lead to withdrawal from the EU, as the signatories to the letter are well-aware.
The other important feature here is that Bernard Jenkin appears to be emerging as the spokesman – and by implication the leader – of the Conservative Eurosceptics/ Eurorealists/withdrawalists. (What does one call them?) It will be interesting to see if he can speak with enough passion, eloquence and fluency
- to command leadership of this large and important group of Tory backbenchers, and
- to secure a wider body of Conservative party support.
(For myself I have known Bernard for many years and we are on friendly terms, but I wonder whether he can project the charisma required for the role. I would like to think that he has, despite my doubts. He comes from a very political family, as his father Patrick Jenkin was in the Thatcher Cabinet from 1979 to 1985. His wife, Anne, was elevated to a life peerage in 2011. She comes from the Strutt family, which owned Lord Rayleigh’s Dairies. Lord Rayleigh’s Dairies was the largest milk supplier to the London market before the First World War, but went into receivership in 1996. Bernard and Anne have a home in Kennington, which hosts a lively ‘political salon’. We may hear more of Kennington vs. Notting Hill in coming months.)
Jenkin – always on the Eurosceptic wing of the party – was originally one of Cameron’s key backers in the 2005 leadership contest, but Cameron dropped him without ceremony from a shadow cabinet position. Jenkin has not forgiven the slight. He has nothing to lose by frank and principled opposition to Cameron, and may become the challenger that everyone has been expecting to emerge at some point. (This is just conjecture. Someone is certain to challenge Cameron this year if UKIP continues to take more votes in local elections than the Conservatives.)
I don’t know what is going to happen from here. We are certainly living in interesting times. The message for UKIP is to ‘keep on campaigning hard, as there is everything to play for’. The larger the UKIP vote on 22nd May, the more likely that Cameron will be toppled by Jenkin or another Tory Eurosceptic. If Jenkin/another Eurosceptic were to become leader after toppling Cameron, Heaven alone knows what the Conservative position on EU membership would be in the 2015 general election.