David Cameron has urged voters not to use the upcoming European and council elections to cast a protest vote for the UK Independence Party.
The Prime Minister said that the “very unpleasant statements” made by some Ukip candidates and backers during the campaign for the May 22 polls had raised questions about the competence of Nigel Farage’s party.
He acknowledged that voters were “frustrated” about the pace of economic growth, immigration and welfare reform, but urged them to turn to a party that offered “answers” rather than simply protest.
His comments echo Labour leader Ed Miliband who told his party’s core supporters that they should not be tempted to vote Ukip as it is does not represent “working people” during a visit to Leeds this week.
In a message to voters during a campaign visit to Bristol, Mr Cameron said: “Remember, when you vote, you are sending people to run your local council, set your local council tax, you are sending people to the European Parliament who will legislate on the regulations faced by British business and the bills paid by the British taxpayers.
“We need the politics of the answer. We need parties who have a plan, as we have a plan in the Conservative Party, to deal with these things.
“Just sending a message or making a protest doesn’t actually, I think, achieve what people want.”
Asked if he regarded Ukip as a racist party, Mr Cameron said: “During this election we have seen some extraordinary statements - in many cases very, very unpleasant statements - by Ukip financial backers and candidates, and I think it does go to the issue of the competence of the party.
“What on Earth are they doing selecting people and allowing people like this to be in their party? It does go to my core point, which is that you have got to, when you think of voting, think about the competence of the people you are going to send to Brussels or Strasbourg, the competence of the people who are going to run your local council. If they can’t control what they are saying, that does raise a very big issue of competence.”
Mr Cameron said that only the Conservatives were offering an in/out referendum on UK membership of a reformed European Union, and made clear he hoped to be able to campaign for Britain to remain in the EU following negotiations with Brussels after the general election.
“My personal view is that Britain is better off in a reformed EU,” he said. “That’s the outcome I seek. I am confident I can renegotiate Britain’s position in Europe.”
Conservatives are “the party that has a very clear plan for how to sort out Europe”, said Mr Cameron, adding: “My vision is very confident, very optimistic, very upbeat, very bullish about what Britain can achieve in Europe.”
Mr Cameron repeated his suggestion that televised debates between party leaders could begin before next year’s election campaign and could involve a variety of participants - potentially with one debate including all parties, including Ukip and the Greens, and another pitting him against Ed Miliband as the two people who could be Prime Minister after the election.
But he said that negotiations between the parties and broadcasters on any potential debates should not take place until the autumn, and said there were still issues to be “ironed out” before agreement can be reached.
Mr Cameron told BBC Breakfast: “There are still a number of issues that have to be ironed out. But I helped make the debates happen last time.
“I am pro-TV debates.” the Prime Minister said.