Do the peer defections have the capability to open up splits?
It is perhaps an indication of the complete lack of PR skills of UKIP that news of the defections to the party of the two Tory peers came out on a Tuesday when there was so much other political news about that it got buried. If the party or Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and Lord Willoughby de Broke, had any nouse they would have done it on a Sunday or, found a time during the quiet news period between Christmas and the New Year.
These things need to be managed well to maximise the impact and the party’s approach looked amateurish in the extreme. What’s the point of defecting if hardly anybody notices?
Sure it got highlighted by the ideologically confused, Daily Telegraph, but for a story to have “legs” it’s got to be picked up by others parts of the media and then linked to something that is wider. Even ContinuityIDS, my name for CONHome, did not get as excited as it might have done.
Given the direction the David Cameron is taking his party the way to have hurt him would not have been on the EU issue – but on a broader pretext that managed to get a bit of “hug-a-hoodie” in as well as Polly Toynbee.
The problem of linking it to the EU is that this is an issue that for most people is as dead as a DoDo. Cameron should be wide open on the failure to deliver the pledge made during his campaign to take the party out of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament.
It often strikes me just how lucky a politician Cameron is. He takes over the party just at a time when Labour is going through turmoil and for the past twelve months he’s been able to waltz round what should be huge mine-fields.
A lot depends now on how Gordon Brown chooses to deal with him. Can he create a policy agenda that forces more unease with Cameron on the fringes of the Tory party? This surely is the way to deal with the threat?
It will be recalled how brilliantly Tony Blair was able to undermine Michael Howard in 2004 by agreeing to a referendum on the EU Constitution – thus taking away the main plank of the Tory leader’s EU stance ahead of the 2004 Euro Elections.
My sense is that the EU does not have the potential to hurt the Tories in the way it did. We have just moved on from the EU as an issue and the Tories opponents on the right and the left need to find something else.