CONSERVATIVE MPs across the North have highlighted their Eurosceptic credentials as Ukip prepared for a major election push in 2015.
Mark Reckless’s victory in Rochester has sent Ukip’s target-seats planners back to the drawing board while at the same time prompting further speculation as to who might be the next to defect.
Last night two North Tory MPs frequently named as among the most likely to switch sides, Philip Davies and Martin Vickers, told this newspaper they had no intention of doing so.
The pair both though stressed their desire to secure a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU as a percussor to leaving the union, and admitted they sympathise with voters heading to Ukip.
Speculation over Ukip’s next victory came after the party won in the Rochester and Strood by-election prompted by Mr Reckless’s defection from the Tory party, with the MP regaining his seat with a majority of 2,920.
Shipley MP Mr Davies said the Tory response had to be a return to its core values.
“Most people in this country are Conservative in their outlook,” he said. “And the way to win their support is to be Conservative, to not alter that.”
The MP added: “If I have been approached by Ukip it must have been in a very half-hearted manner. I have friends who are in Ukip and we talk but I have friends in the Labour party and I’m not about to defect to them. If the question is am I going to join Ukip the answer is no, but we do have a common goal.”
Asked if he favoured an electoral pact with Ukip heading into 2015, Mr Davies said: “I think it’s pointless for people who agree on so much to be going up against each other, it is nonsense. But the one thing Nigel Farage and David Cameron agree on is that they do not want anything to do with reach other, so it’s a real non-starter.”
The same Eurosceptic approach was made by Cleethorpes MP Mr Vickers, who said the focus now was on winning back the Rochester seat in the 2015 General Election.
He added: “I do hear people link my name to Ukip, and I guess that’s the politics game, but after 40 years in the Conservative party, I won’t be changing.
“I’m a Eurosceptic, I can see why people would be tempted to vote for Ukip, but in 2015 voters will have a clear choice, and it is the Conservative’s who offer the chance of a referendum.”
Within hours of the Rochester result, announced just after 4am on Friday, Mr Reckless was in parliament to be sworn in before the start of an NHS debate in which he voted against privatisation measures introduced by the Tories.
Speaking at his election count victiry, he said: “Whichever constituency, whatever your former party allegiance, think of what it would mean to have a bloc of Ukip MPs at Westminster large enough to hold the balance of power.”
Party leader Mr Farage said the result - in Ukip’s 271st target seat - showed that his party was now capable of winning anywhere in the country.
“I would be very surprised, given where we are, if there weren’t more defections.
“They won’t happen today, they won’t happen tomorrow, but over the course of the next few weeks people will be thinking and perhaps some of them saying to themselves ‘You know what, I have got a better chance of winning on a purple ticket than I have on a blue ticket’.”