The Conservative to Ukip defection announcement have come thick and fast throughout the Conservative party conference in Birmingham this week, as Ukip piles on the pressure before next year’s general election. And today is no different. In a few hours when Prime Minister David Cameron takes to the stage to present his leader’s address, he’ll do so knowing that he’s just lost a major donor to the party.
Ukip have this morning released a statement announcing the switch of allegiance by multimillionaire Arron Banks, who will this afternoon present Ukip leader Nigel Farage with a cheque for £100,000 ($162,000). The insurance entrepreneur has previously donated £300,000 to the Conservatives, but this morning explained that he was making the move as he had come to realise that he Conservative party no longer represented his views on Europe.
He said: “I’ve supported the Conservatives for a number of years but have come to the realisation that only UKIP supports my views.
“Being a member of the EU is like having a first class ticket on the Titanic. Economically, remaining in the EU is unsustainable. We are being dragged down to the lowest common denominator of financial growth when we should be looking to trade worldwide and should be basing our future prosperity on a long term global outlook.”
In reference to Cameron’s plan to renegotiate the terms of the European treaties with Europe before putting the results to an ‘In/Out’ referendum on membership of the European Union in 2017, Mr Banks said “The Conservative party try to sell us the myth that EU reform is achievable when frankly all Cameron can offer is tinkering around the edges. He is not even able to bring himself to say that he would support UK exit if his supposed reforms do not work”.
His views are markedly similar to those of Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, the two Members of Parliament to have defected to Ukip in recent weeks and stepped down from their positions as MPs, prompting by-elections in their constituencies. Both men spoke of a moment of realisation during a backbench meeting with the Prime Minister, in which they understood that Mr Cameron only intended to secure fig-leaf changes in Europe as a way to persuade the people of Britain to stay within the European Union.
Commenting on the defection, Ukip leader Nigel Farage said “I am delighted to welcome Arron’s support to UKIP. His generosity will go a long way in our campaign. It shows a real development of UKIP that we are now attracting serious financial backers that will help secure our position in the premier league of politics. Arron recognises that it is the European Union that is holding Britain and her businesses back.
“The other parties are losing Councillors, MPs and backers to UKIP, not only voters, and they are all playing their part in changing the course of politics in the UK for good. Our people’s army is really starting to grow”.
Mr Banks follows in the footsteps of multi-millionaire Paul Sykes, another ex-Conservative backer who this year bankrolled Ukip’s advertising budget for the European Elections to the tune of a reported £1.5m, according to the Guardian.
The defection will fuel speculation that the Conservative Party is finally being split asunder by the ‘Europe Question’. It is certainly a battle that has been raging within the party for many years, even bringing about the demise of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in the early 1990s. Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech, which is widely considered to have been instrumental in bringing about Thatcher’s overthrow three weeks later, heavily referenced European Community, as it was then known.
It is remarkable how similar Howe’s rhetoric on Europe is to what is being said by today’s politicians. In his speech, Howe said “We must at all costs avoid presenting ourselves yet again with an over-simplified choice, a false antithesis, a bogus dilemma, between one alternative, starkly labelled “co-operation between independent sovereign states” and a second, equally crudely labelled alternative, “centralised, federal super-state”, as if there were no middle way in between.
“We commit a serious error if we think always in terms of “surrendering” sovereignty and seek to stand pat for all time on a given deal–by proclaiming, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister [Thatcher] did two weeks ago, that we have “surrendered enough”.”
His speech came just one day after Thatcher’s famous “No, no, no!” speech in which she vowed that Britain would never join a single currency, something which Howe and her Chancellor Nigel Lawson had been trying to persuade her to do for many years.
Ukip will now be attempting to win their first two elected MPs in Clacton and Rochester and Strood, Mr Carswell’s and Mr Reckless’s respective former constituencies. The newly donated money will be a boost to both campaigns, and can only serve to make the Conservative party more nervous ahead of those ballots.