Sir John Major isn’t a fan of Ukip and thinks it will fade away from its current position on the political scene. He’s not the only one who thinks that: one of the problems that all three main parties have face is that they have continually assumed that Ukip is about to lose its head of steam, and have therefore made precious few preparations for the party getting bigger and stealing more of their voters. But there was one very interesting remark that Major made in his interview on the Today programme. He said:
‘The circumstances between the 1990s and now are very different in many ways, and in a very curious way the recent European elections have emphasised that very clear. I think the results of these elections right across Europe have made a renegotiation much easier. It’s apparent now to governments right across Europe that reform of the European Union is necessary – it isn’t working as it should, it isn’t working in the way in which European citizens think it should.’
This is exactly the argument that Tory MPs campaigning in the European elections found on the doorstep. Voters told them that they liked what David Cameron had to say now about Europe and they liked the idea of a renegotiation. But they felt that voting Ukip would strengthen Cameron’s hand because it would give Brussels an awful fright at the prospect of Brexit. The question is whether the Conservatives can convince those Ukip voters to return in 2015.
It’s interesting that Major chose to be charitably complimentary about Cameron’s chances of securing a good settlement in the renegotiation, even though the Prime Minister has failed to take his predecessor’s advice about appointing someone to work full time on the matter. Cameron is on the brink of appointing someone to an influential job that will play an important role in that renegotiation, but as I say in my Telegraph column today, his apparent preferred choice of Andrew Lansley isn’t going down all that well with Tory MPs. They fear Lansley isn’t the strong player that Cameron needs when he’s got a very tough few years of talks with reluctant EU leaders ahead of him. He won’t want to rely on the fright of Ukip, after all.