By Mark Wallace
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The Eurocrats' latest wheeze is a legal case intended to strike down the restrictions used to prevent benefit tourists milking the British benefits system. Such a campaign is obviously outrageous - and deeply unpopular with taxpayers who are already concerned about some of their fellow Brits taking undue advantage of the welfare state.
IDS - and eurosceptics more generally - could not have asked for a more perfect goody.
He will "fight it all the way", apparently even to the point of appearing in court himself. He won't just thunder about this, expect him to have a full Thor outfit winging its way to his office on mail order. To slightly adjust the originally quote, the quiet man is smashing Brussels with a viking war hammer.
Conservative MPs will be in their constituencies less on Fridays in the near future than would otherwise be the case. In a double-pronged move, William Hague has written to each one asking for diaries to be cleared for July 5, when James Wharton will present his EU referendum bill to the Commons, and Grant Shapps has sent a letter to Association Chairmen about the measure. The Foreign Secretary has also asked Tory MPs to keep their Friday diaries light for the near future. The Prime Minister's latest charm offensive to his Party is under way.
Ed Miliband hasn't ruled out a referendum at some point, and Nick Clegg appears to be re-warming to one (or rather, has been re-warming to one - see Mark Wallace's account of his twists and turns on the matter). But neither will want to see a Conservative-backed bill pass through the Commons, and although some non-Tory MPs will certainly vote for it, it's most unlikely to succeed. Furthermore, I suspect the temptation to amend it by tacking on a mandate referendum or renegotiation proposals will be too much for some Conservative backbenchers to resist.
David Cameron will be hoping that Labour and the Liberal Democrats opposition to the bill will be go down badly with voters - but I'm not convinced that voters will be greatly moved by it. However, some will notice if the proceedings give an impression of Tory disunity, (see today's poll in the Independent) with Ministers and PPS's being whipped to vote against backbench amendments. All this reinforces the case for Cameron to get on the front foot over the repatriation of powers, and set out his own view, rather than see backbenchers set the pace during Wharton's bill and the run-up to the 2015 election campaign.
By Mark Wallace
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It is impossible to mention UKIP without Nigel Farage springing to mind, a pint in one hand and a fag in the other. He has ridden to national fame on the UKIP wave, and played a huge part in driving it forward.
By differing in every way from the main party leaders - dress, manner, style of speaking, lifestyle - he has cast himself successfully as the anti-politics politician.
As an MEP for the last 14 years, and a co-founder of his party 20 years ago, it is a surprising coup. Plenty of local Councillors are dismissed as mere members of the political class as soon as they are elected, but he has somehow slipped the label despite his last "proper job" - to use a favoured Farage turn of phrase - being in the 1990s.
It is far from his only achievement. "Some of the [UKIP] members treat him almost as a messianic figure," says one longstanding activist, sounding slightly concerned at the idea. Messiah or naughty boy, Farage has proved a regular hit on Question Time, and in the last few months it feels like he has been living in the nation's news studios. In March, Ipsos Mori found that he is the only party leader with a positive approval rating.
It is starting to feel like he might enter that select group of public figures identifiable by their first name alone - not something many would have predicted for a Nigel.
But he has been UKIP leader before, from 2006-2009, without such a media breakthrough for himself or his party. What has changed?
By Peter Hoskin
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Policies? What policies?! That used to be the cry when UKIP were less a political party and more a pressure group for our departure from Europe. But such scoffs and sneers are, if not entirely unwarranted, certainly less relevant nowadays. The party’s website provides a fairly clear list, split in to several sections, of their thinking on defence, on welfare, on energy, and most of the other areas where governments actually ought to do a spot of governing. There are gaps to mind – some hastily covered over with promises of reviews to come – but what party outside of government couldn’t say the same, two years away from a general election? Indeed, if you compare the UKIP website with, say, Labour’s, it offers a firmer sense of ideology and of policy. Can we even be sure that Ed Miliband’s policy on Europe won’t change before 2015? We can be sure that Nigel Farage’s won’t, and of more besides.
The Big E
While Europe may not represent the sum total of UKIP’s aspirations, let’s start this five-point distillation of their policies on the Continent, as it were. After all, leaving Europe’s political union is not just the totem they bow before, it also provides the basis for many of their other policies. It’s all about freedom, you see. Apparently, once we’re free from what Mr Farage would no doubt describe as the “shackles” of the Brussels bastille, then so many other opportunities would present themselves; whether it’s opportunities to cut taxes, to severely reduce immigration, or to trade with the rest of the world.
By Mark Wallace
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It is easy to blame the media for UKIP's recent run of success. "Of course they did well, Farage is on TV and in the papers all the time", runs the common narrative. Such an explanation may be widespread but it is not altogether accurate.
Certainly their high media profile contributed greatly to their showing in the local elections and the South Shields by-election a couple of weeks ago. But they did not enjoy so much time in the spotlight during the by-election campaigns in Corby, Rotherham, Middlesbrough or Eastleigh, and yet did well at each all the same.
In fact, it was their surprise success in those battles which forced the media - and swing voters - to take them into consideration. Their campaign machine has bought them airtime - which establishes a feedback loop. More votes means more coverage means more votes and so on.
So how do they do it?
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Even now, despite the economic difficulties, the Tories are still preferred to Labour on questions of economic competence. That's before any economic recovery.
More people blame the last Labour government for the deficit than blame the Coalition.
Cameron beats Ed Miliband on nearly every measure of what it takes to be Prime Minister.
Ed Miliband is not seen as a PM-in-waiting. His ratings have hardly improved since he was first elected Labour leader.
On welfare and immigration Labour is still out of touch with voters - not least in its own heartland constituencies.
Whether in London against Boris or in Scotland against Alex Salmond, Labour is struggling to win the big match ups.
Labour is refusing to give the people a referendum on Europe.
Reasons like those listed above should give Tory members hope. The next election is far from lost. It's not going to be easy for reasons that ConHome has warned about for a long time... but victory is possible. A precondition, however, is party unity and in today's Times (£) I set out two ways of achieving unity.
By Mark Wallace
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This week, ConservativeHome's "Getting to Know U-KIP" series explores the reality of the party hitting the headlines - who they are, how they work and what they believe. Today's piece is an introduction to UKIPpers, and asks what motivates them, why they do what they do, and what implications that has for British - and particularly Conservative - politics.
In June 2004, buoyed by the high profile declaration of support by Robert Kilroy-Silk, UKIP reached 26,000 members. It was a heady moment for the party - and one that would not last. Within months, the tangerine TV man had stormed out and the new recruits were melting away.
Last Tuesday, UKIP broke that 26,000 record for the first time. They are booming at grassroots level, as well as in the polls. They now have two targets - to reach 30,000 members by the time their party conference begins in September, and to hang onto the new recruits this time.
But who are the UKIPpers? We know what senior Conservatives think of them - from Michael Howard's "cranks and gadflies" and David Cameron's infamous "fruitcakes and closet racists" to Ken Clarke's disastrous "clowns" comment on the eve of the local elections. And yet despite the abuse, they are still on the march - for clowns they are very serious, and they have proved unusually long lived for supposed gadflies.
Understanding them matters - without an insight into their motivations, their history and their views then Conservatives have no way to come up with an informed response. Whether you want to defeat UKIP, ally with them or bring them into the Tory fold, you stand no chance of success if you don't know them.
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There's an interesting YouGov poll in today's Times (£). We know what most voters think of Europe. They want it changed back to something more like a free trade area. We know what voters think of a referendum. They want to have one. But do voters think the politicians are genuine about the European and referenda policies that they hold? YouGov asked voters whether they thought politicians were holding their European policy positions because "they feel strongly about the issue" or "mainly because they are making a tactical calculation about what to say". The results are telling...
Parliament means Party, and Party means Whips. In other words, MPs must always form themselves into political parties, which in turn will require whipping, if the executive is to work in our system of Parliamentary government. It follows that Prime Ministers have both a selfless and a selfish reason for taking special care of their whips. If they don't, coherent government becomes impossible (the selfless reason) and their own position becomes endangered (the selfish one). And since it has never been harder to be a Whip - given the transformation of MPs into constituency champions, and their consequent rebelliousness - David Cameron must zealously care for their condition and morale.
The Prime Minister's EU referendum bill gambit was rushed out to quell the threat of a large number of Conservative MPs voting for John Baron's amendment to the Queen's Speech. Over 100 did - so the manoevre failed. That's roughly half of all Tory backbenchers. Blame must therefore lie either with the Whips, for failing to minimise the rebellion, or with Cameron himself, for failing to tell them to do so. The guidance consistent with both minimising the rebellion and good party management would have been to offer one of those free votes that aren't really free votes at all. Both Ministers and backbenchers would have been encouraged by the Whips to abstain, to drive down the number of Tory MPs supporting the Baron amendment.
By Andrew Gimson
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Is the Nick Clegg who promised a referendum at the time of the Lisbon Treaty "an impostor or just a hypocrite"? This was the contemptuous choice offered by Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough) as Clegg stood in for David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions.
Leigh was one of several Tory MPs who enjoyed referring to the leaflet in which Clegg pledged himself to a referendum. Vince Cable, believed by some to be intending to supplant Clegg as Lib Dem leader before the next election, grinned as the awkward question was put. Danny Alexander, a loyal Cleggite, looked hot with embarrassment.
But Clegg himself did not look in the slightest bit embarrassed. He confirmed that the man in the leaflet was himself, and declared that the Lib Dem position remains that "we should have a referendum on Europe when the rules change".
Whether or not that is a true summary of the Lib Dem position, Clegg managed to sound as if he thought it was true. He looked like a man who was greatly
enjoying the chance to clear his name.