By Tim Montgomerie
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Anyone who has read Roger Helmer's pieces on ConHome will know that he's been unhappy with David Cameron's leadership for a long time. In the blog we posted on Thursday he listed twenty differences between the party leadership and, he suggested, many Tory activists. With disappointment but little surprise we learn that he's defected to UKIP; a few months after David Campbell Bannerman travelled in the opposite direction, from UKIP to the Conservatives.
Roger explains his reasons in an open letter to all Conservative Party members.
Roger has made the wrong decision. There are two parties of government in British politics and they are the Labour and the Conservative parties. In our first-past-the-post system a party like UKIP splits the Eurosceptic vote and lets Europhile candidates in by the backdoor. Although I, like Roger, also believe that Britain needs to once again become an independent, self-governing state I believe the Conservative Party remains the best vehicle for that goal.
Roger is right to regret the insufficient radicalism of the current leadership and I understand his impatience but I'm completely convinced that the party-at-large is becoming more and more Eurosceptic. Even the group of MEPs, under Martin Callanan's excellent leadership, have been reconnecting with the grassroots. 2010 saw 'Thatcher's children' elected to the House of Commons in record numbers. Last year's political event wasn't the PM's theatrical veto, it was the rebellion of the 81. 81 Tory MPs demonstrated a commitment to all the British people having their say on this country's future relationship with the EU. At some point that say must and will be had. An Irish no, a Greek default, a Portuguese rescheduling failure, a French left-turn may all precipitate an earlier rather than later reckoning.
Cameron may be glad to see the back of Roger Helmer. Roger's position on issues like gay marriage and climate change are hardly Cameroon. But his defection is a self-inflicted wound. If his planned retirement had been better handled by ConHQ the defection would have been avoided. It is also a warning that many Conservatives are struggling to see enough in Project Cameron to maintain their loyalty. Streetwise MEPs like Paul Nuttall hint that UKIP is becoming more than a one man wonder. They are at 5% or 6% in some polls. If they maintain that level of support they will make it harder for the Conservatives to win that elusive parliamentary majority. My message to Cameron as he dances with Nick Clegg on the Coalition dance floor is not to forget the Conservative Party that waits at the edge, tapping its foot a little more menacingly each and every day.