Isabel Hardman

Exclusive: Ukip offers to pay for polls for would-be defectors

Exclusive: Ukip offers to pay for polls for would-be defectors
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Ukip have been approaching potential defectors and offering to pay for a poll in their constituency that shows how well they'd do as a Ukip candidate, Coffee House has learned.

Since boasting last week that they had a few more MPs who might defect to the party, Ukip have been trying again with some Conservatives they believe to be vulnerable. They approached one with what the MP describes as a 'carrot-and-stick' approach. 'The pitch was you're a great guy and we'll pay for a poll with you as hypothetical Ukip candidate if you defect,' said the MP, who didn't want to be named. 'The stick was we'll soon select a good Ukip candidate who might cost you the seat.'

It is significant that the party is offering to pay for constituency polls, which do not come cheap at all, in order to tempt MPs over. And the threat of selecting a candidate and fighting properly where previously a robust eurosceptic might have expected the party to lay off the dogs shows that Ukip is now adopting tougher tactics in its quest to cause even more Conservative trouble. It clearly wants more Tories, rather than viewing Douglas Carswell's defection as a sufficient prize.

The party also approached eurosceptic backbencher Gordon Henderson on Monday. A Ukip candidate has already been selected in Henderson's seat, but the Tory MP told Coffee House that he was 'born a Conservative and will die a Conservative and I wouldn't want to take the Ukip candidate's job away from him'. That last assertion sounds terribly noble, and the Tories are certainly trying to suggest that Douglas Carswell has been less-than-noble by shunting poor Roger Lord out of the way.

Meanwhile, the whips are still hard at work trying to head off any trouble from the eurosceptics. Laura Pitel from The Times has spotted Mark Reckless, a key EU rebel, being lunched by chief whip Michael Gove today. Gove may well be worried by the prospect that I outline in this week's Spectator of the eurosceptics exercising their new 'exit threat', even though they are utterly furious with Carswell.