It’s been a while since you could rightly call the Telegraph the “Torygraph”, an easy and largely unambiguous friend of the Conservative Party and its leadership. But, just in case you’ve been distracted all that time, the paper set about proving it again this morning. Their front page splashes on the story of Paul Sykes, a former Tory donor who is transferring his money and affections to UKIP ahead of next year’s European elections, and who is interviewed on later pages. It’s almost as though they were trying to spoil David Cameron’s breakfast as efficiently, and with the boldest font, as they could.
But it’s not all sour milk for the Tories. The Telegraph also contains an editorial making the usual argument against Sykes and his fellow discontents: if they’re so keen for a In/Out Referendum, why are they operating against a Conservative Party that is offering one, and thus strengthening a Labour Party that isn’t? Part of it, I’m sure, is as the Telegraph says: “Ukip supporters do not care. They are so angry with Mr Cameron…” etc, etc. But Sykes’ case suggests another perspective, and one that’s worth noting down for future reference. According to the interview:
“…his aim is to help Nigel Farage’s party top the poll in next year’s European elections. If that happens, Sykes hopes that all the major parties will then commit to a referendum on the UK’s future in Europe.”
Which is to say, Sykes wants his money to push Labour and the Lib Dems into committing to a referendum, too. This might not be the action of someone who wants to spite the Tories, but of someone who expects Labour to win the next election anyway – and who still wants a referendum.
Is that what Sykes is thinking? I suppose we shouldn’t guess at his motives, not least because he can spend his money how, and for whatever reason, he wishes. But we can guess at other open questions within the story. For instance, how much will he actually give to UKIP? He says that he’ll do “whatever it takes”. The Telegraph suggests that “his latest investment in the party is expected to run into several millions”. But there isn’t an exact figure, which leaves room for uncertainty. UKIP’s moneymen may want to get on the case.
And as for the other open question – will Sykes actually achieve what he wants? – next year’s elections, and the events that follow them, will have to be our guide. In the meantime, it’s simply another big-money donor for a party that is now fairly stable on 10 per cent in the opinion polls, and whose supporters don’t seem eager to come over to the Tories. UKIP are still in the way of another Cameron government.