Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

How David Cameron could defuse the threat of UKIP defections

Is a group of MPs preparing to leave the Tory party’s benches and defect to UKIP? Christopher Hope has a good scoop in today’s Telegraph that UKIP’s Treasurer Stuart Wheeler has had secret talks with eight MPs about a possible defection. Wheeler told the paper that he had held ‘completely confidential’ meetings with MPs. Apparently unaware of the irony of spilling the beans to a journalist about these ‘completely confidential’ meetings, even if he doesn’t name any of those involved, the Treasurer said:

‘I have had lunch secretly if you like, in a completely confidential way, with eight different Tory MPs.’

He added:

‘Each was promised by me that I would not tell any of the others, or anybody else except Nigel.’

Even Wheeler admits that those lunches were no indication that all eight involved might defect, or whether they actually had a looser pact of the kind James described yesterday in mind when they agreed to meet UKIP figures. But this is a higher number holding talks than previously thought: Farage has previously disclosed that he held meetings with two Tory MPs. The UKIP leader himself features in the Telegraph, too, with an op-ed in which he argues his party is now ‘neither on the Left nor on the Right, but at the centre of public debate – rather than at the centre of the discourse that exists in the Westminster bubble’. But an easy trap for many – including Conservatives – to fall into is one of thinking that UKIP is a sort of Tory Deluxe offering, with all the Cameroon trimmings removed. As Alex points out in his post, the party does have a number of strikingly different policies which many Conservatives would struggle to accept.

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