The defection of a Tory MP on the eve of the annual conference of the ruling Conservative Party amounted to a thundering slap to Prime Minister and Conservative leader David Cameron and it will doubtless reverberate for months to come. Make no mistake about it. The Conservatives are in trouble. They have been sinking deeper [...]

Sunday Times 2

Resounding slap to David Cameron’s face


The defection of a Tory MP on the eve of the annual conference of the ruling Conservative Party amounted to a thundering slap to Prime Minister and Conservative leader David Cameron and it will doubtless reverberate for months to come.

Make no mistake about it. The Conservatives are in trouble. They have been sinking deeper into the political mire for months now despite what our diplomatic pundits in London might be saying to the Sri Lanka government, if they are saying anything at all.

British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses delegates on the final day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, central England, on October 1, 2014. Talk of treason cast a shadow over Britain's Conservative Party conference this week, where gossip raged over who might be next to defect to the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP). AFP

What happened last week is a sign of things to come. Not only did Mark Reckless, the Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood quit the party but he also added insult to political injury by appearing on the stage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) at its party conference. That was the day before the Tory’s were due to make their grand play to remain in power after next May’s election.

A reckless gesture it might have been, if a pun is permitted, by Mark Reckless, for now Cameron and the Tory leadership are sworn to direct its heavy artillery at the defector during the ensuing by-election campaign which Reckless is going to contest as a candidate for UKIP.
He is the second Tory MP to change sides in as many months. Douglas Carswell who resigned his seat in the Clacton constituency is also preparing to recontest the by-election from UKIP.

What has shaken the Tory leadership is that the two defections were kept closely-guarded secrets, especially the Reckless long jump, and it took the Tory’s by absolute surprise. Springing such a surprise on the eve of the Tory conference and pricking Cameron’s already bloated self- image just before his last conference pitch ahead of the elections is a victory for UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

This is the second time that Farage has upstaged Cameron and his public-school panjandrums, not to mention his Australian policy strategist, who are turning away traditional Tory voters and supporters by droves.

Analysts say that since the 2010 general election, more than one in four Conservative voters have left Cameron, more than half of them deserting to Farage’s UKIP.

What is still very much an open question is whether in the months ahead there will be more defections to UKIP which is making inroads not only into Conservative territory but also to Labour and probably Liberal Democrats as well.

Soon after Reckless made his political long jump (surely something that is not a phenomenon strange to Sri Lanka politics), the former deputy mayor of London Richard Barnes, one time deputy to current mayor and Conservative front-runner Boris Johnson, also quit the Tories and embraced UKIP.

At the May elections to the European Parliament and some local bodies in Britain, UKIP made a strong showing winning more seats in Strasbourg than any other mainstream UK party. It won 24 seats and also made substantial gains in the local government polls.
Though it has no representation in Westminster it might well put its foot in if former Conservative MP and defector Carswell wins the Clacton by-election this week.

Then Nigel Farage’s comment that the UKIP fox is in the Westminster hen house could prove true come May 2015.
It is true that the European Parliament does not have much clout in the domestic politics of the member countries or that European election results have any impact on voters’conduct at general elections.

But the fact that UKIP is now very much a factor in the British political scene is what worries all three mainstream parties even if they are loathe to admit it.

It is not just the Conservatives who have to fear the ability of UKIP to attract Tory supporters and cause defections which in turn have led to rumblings and misgivings among Conservative backbenchers and party branches in the various constituencies.

UKIP is moving into working class areas where Labour was once strong but is now yielding ground to UKIP. One reason is that Labour leader Ed Miliband is hardly an inspiring personality though he did fight back at last year’s party conference to upstage Cameron.

The other is that even working class voters in the UK are beginning to worry about the influx of southern and eastern Europeans from the European Union who have freedom of movement within the EU and can live and work in a member-country.

UKIP is strongly critical of this policy of free movement which the party claims is stealing the jobs of British citizens whereas skilled workers from outside the EU who would be more important to resuscitate the UK economy are most- often denied entry.

It is also claimed that the European immigrants not only take British jobs by working for lower wages but also make use of British social welfare facilities and housing.

The problem for Cameron is that he has surrounded himself with Etonians and other public school types at the expense of better qualified and traditional Conservatives.

As Dr Mathew Goodwin, writing recently in the British newspaper the Guardian on why the Conservative supporters are rejecting their party leaders is because, he said, they are “Öxbridge-educated, socially liberal and financially privileged political class that has pushed Britain in a direction they find abhorrent and betrayed their brand of conservatism.” Cameron and the public-school types he has surrounded himself with are the snooty stiff-upper lip kind that the Conservative backbenchers and supporters detest.

Given the current political climate it is unlikely that any of the two major political parties would gain a working majority and would perforce have to depend on smaller parties in Westminster if they are to cobble together a government.

In the circumstances the Sri Lanka Government would be naive to buy the stories emanating from some of our diplomats that it should cultivate Conservative MPs and party supporters by inviting them to Colombo and laying out the red carpet.

What seems to be happening is that Lords and Ladies, some of them so decrepit that they are of no use to man or beast are being wined and dined when we should be looking at the wider political picture and making new friends especially those who could be talked to on the wider picture of immigration and matters close to us.

Anybody with any political sense would have noticed the changing landscape of British politics. That is why I had urged nearly one year ago that we approach UKIP, make new friends who could be of use to Sri Lanka instead of hanging on to the tattered coat tails of tottering lords and ladies of a decadent society.

It was as productive as singing an aria to the deaf

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