Will UKIP councillors return to the fold?
At the last General Election the UKIP manifesto offerered an array of policies. But there was one in particular that was "central to UKIP’s message." It was their unique selling point. The irreducible essence that marked them out as different to the ‘the "LibLabCon-sensus".
It was the following:
"We need a new referendum on EU membership. Only UKIP represents the majority view."
Rejoice. The Prime Minister now agrees. If we have a Conservative Government after the next election this will take place. So the logic would be for UKIP supporters to switch to the Conservatives to allow the in/out referendum to take place.
But UKIP's reaction has been disorientation. It reminds me of an incident at the Live8 pop concert in Hyde Park in 2005. There were 200,000 people who had turned up to show their support for boosting the aid budget - but also to hear Coldplay, Madonna, Elton John, etc.
Just before REM were due to perform there was an announcement from Ricky Gervais:
"Bob Geldof and Richard Curtis have just been on a conference call with Tony Blair and George Bush and they've agreed to not double but quadruple aid, so the concert's over!"
There was a look of shock from the audience, then after a pause, Mr Gervais added:
"Only joking. They haven't! We can carry on!"
If the UKIP leadership have responded to yesterday's speech in a conused and contradictory manner what about the UKIP councillors?
There are a couple of dozen of them out of 22,000 in the UK. Although UKIP quote a tally of something over 100. Fair enough as they are also counting parish and town councillors - out of around 70,000.)
UKIP have control of Ramsey Town Council. They control the modest £160,000 budget for the 2,930 local residents. They gained power in 2011. Since then the Council Tax precept has been increased from £42.56 on Band D to £54.61. That, I think, is the only evidence we have of UKIP in power and is does not exactly boost their tax cutting credentials.
Anyway I have emailed some of their councillors to ask for their reaction to David Cameron's speech yesterday. I asked if they felt "that the offer of an in/out referendum on EU membership from the Conservatives means you feel Conservative victory at the General Election would be preferable to Labour victory and if so if you will consider joining the Conservatives. Or if not what would be required to persuade you to join."
There wre a mix of replies with some asking not to be named. One of them said he was "refelecting" on what course to take. I hope and expect that some of them will be campaigning for the Conservatives in 2015.
Those happy to go "on the record" were more hostile. Cllr Tom Burnsall of Windsor and Maidenhead wrote:
I'm not a tribalist, and so there are theoretical grounds for which I would rejoin the Conservatives.
But Cllr Burnsall added that "Labour will eventually offer a referendum before 2015." The speech was a "bribe" - an odd way of describing someone agreeing to something you had asked for. Cllr Burnsall also said he concerned with other issues such as tax - although his Conservative controlled Council has been cutting tax while Ramsey has been pushing it up.
Cllr Christopher Quinton of South Oxfordshire District Council says:
I will never support any party that advocates gay marriages.
Cllr Mike Hobson of Worth Matravers Parish Council said:
"My initial reaction is that Cameron cannot be trusted, and I will send you a full statement as soon as possible."
Personal antipathy to David Cameron cropped up quite a bit. The implication was that if the same policy was offered by another Tory leader it would be acceptable. Given that the Prime Minister has been discourteous about UKIP members - saying they are "odd", "fruitcakes", etc - this is unsurprising.
But isn't it rather petty when we have a chance to be restored as an self governing nation to spurn the offer on the grounds that you don't like the man who is making the offer?
Several claimed the pledge to a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was broken - but surely they must be aware that the treaty had already been ratified before the 2010 General Election. Legally the Government did not have the power to unratify it. The cast iron pledge was always dependent on the General Election taking place in time. It wasn't which is why it was not possible to include it in th 2010 Conservative manifesto.
Another argument was that the Conservatives would not win the next election and so would not be able to introduce the referendum.
Cllr Lister Wilson of Cambridgeshire County Council says:
I do think a Conservative victory at the next General Election is preferable to a Labour one but there is absolutely no likelihood of this happening no matter what the pro-Conservative papers say.
There is an element of self fulfilling prophecy about all this. UKIP's position is evidently that we won't get the in/out referendum as the Conservatives won't win the General Election as UKIP will take lots of votes from the Conservatives and thus we will remain in an unreformed EU under a Labour or Labour/Lib Dem Government. Are UKIP really sure this is the best strategy for advancing the independence of the United Kingdom?
Cllr Donna Edmunds of Lewes District Council says:
My personal view is that renegotiation followed by a straight In/Out referendum is the best way to secure an out vote, but UKIP are still the only party campaigning for an out vote, and while that's the case they certainly have my support.
The trouble is, Cllr Edmunds, that unless the Conservatives win the next election there won't be a referendum. So there won't be you or anyone else campaigning for an out vote. There won't be vote.
It is time for UKIP members to decide whether to put their party or their country first.