I once gave the Conservatives their biggest ever donation, yet I recently took the difficult decision to support Ukip for the European elections on 4 June. So I have been expelled from the Tory party. I am not an observant person but I do not seem to have been cut by anyone since then; rather the opposite. Goodness knows how many people, ranging from a vicar to a pensioner, have told me that they have voted, and will vote this time, Conservative in all national elections but Ukip in the European elections. Lord Tebbit, while carefully avoiding specifically recommending Ukip, which would have been a catastrophe for the Tories as they would have had to expel him, suggested not voting for the three main parties or BNP. Spot the difference between that and recommending Ukip.
Why do we do this? Because the Conservative party is failing the nation. I was at the Tory conference when David Cameron made the ghastly statement that the Conservatives were not going to continue ‘banging on about Europe’.
There are two reasons why they should bang on about Europe. The first, the more likely to appeal to the Tory leadership, is that the voters mind a great deal about the EU. Contrary to what seems to be received wisdom among Tories, voters are far from bored by this subject. The polls make this clear. YouGov recently asked the voters which of ten things they would most like to see done. What would you have expected them to say? Reduce taxes? Deal with climate change? Scrap ID cards? No, top came reducing immigration, and second, reducing the powers of the EU and increasing the powers of Britain’s parliament — an astonishing poll result from pollsters who have a particularly good record of getting things right.
The other reason for ‘banging on’ is that the EU is a disaster. Do we want a European army? Do we want a semi-permanent president and foreign minister of the EU? Do we want the EU in charge of our criminal courts? Do we want to continue the Common Fisheries Policy which has destroyed our once-great fishing industry? Do we want to continue the inordinately expensive Common Agricultural Policy?
I answer no to all those questions, but there is one matter which dwarfs even those: it is cost. We are all worried, quite rightly, that this country has to borrow £175 billion this year. According to the highly respected think-tank the TaxPayers’ Alliance, our membership of the EU costs us £120 billion a year. Yes, £120 billion, i.e. over two thirds of that borrowing. And the borrowing will not go on for ever, but, unless there is a radical change, the cost of being in the EU will go up and up for ever. Putting the cost another way, it amounts to £2,000 per man, woman, child and baby. So an average family of four with one breadwinner would be £8,000 better off out of the EU. And that average family has an after-tax income of only £17,000.
Meanwhile, as we all suffer the recession, our MPs gobble up our money. The anger everywhere is huge. Yet as the unimpeachable Marta Andreasen, the EU’s chief accountant, sacked for exposing incompetence and fraud in the EU, has pointed out, our own scandal here is nothing compared to the EU gravy train. She is now the treasurer of Ukip, and one of many reasons for voting for them.
In spite of all this, the Tories are pathetically terrified of the subject. They certainly did not bang on about it in their election broadcast, which was supposed to be about the local and European elections. The EU was allowed about five seconds out of a five-minute broadcast.
They do, however, seem to have sensed recently that people are concerned about the EU. So? Their reaction, which has unfortunately been rather successful so far, is for William Hague to use carefully chosen weasel words to give the impression that the Tories are getting tough about the EU. The exact reverse is the truth. In a Daily Telegraph interview it was reported that William Hague indicated that the Conservatives were likely to attempt to scrap the Lisbon treaty, possibly by calling a retrospective referendum. Not exactly a commitment.
Then again Ken Clarke, the arch Europhile, has been appointed to the shadow cabinet. If there is a referendum on Lisbon, will he vote against the treaty? William Hague says that he expects — expects, mark you — that he will. Did he and David Cameron not ask Clarke the question before they appointed him? Ken Clarke, as a backbencher, was quite specific. Calls for a referendum were ‘absurd’.
Come on, David and William — show some leadership ...and at the same time win the election in a trot.