Guido has an important story this morning concerning Lord Pearson’s recent defection to UKIP. Guido reports that Lord Pearson attached a vital condition to his recent decision to become a UKIP peer:
"UKIP, Pearson was promised, would not field candidates against Eurosceptic Tory candidates. Pearson does not believe that defeating friendly anti-EU allies would serve the national interest. In 2005 UKIP were reckoned to have cost the Tories six seats, including in Thanet South where the candidate was an ardent anti-EU campaigner. This commitment could in some ways secure Cameron’s right-wing flank and benefit UKIP by allowing them to focus resources on more useful targets. It will also encourage Eurosceptics in the Conservative party to advertise their loyalties and put pressure on the Europhiles. The old UKIP policy scared many wavering Conservative voters who feared voting UKIP would only benefit Labour and the LibDems. Lord Pearson may yet have done the Conservative party a final great service…"
If true, this is significant news. Up until now the (not-entirely-clear) UKIP policy has been to give Eurosceptic MPs a clear run but to fight Eurosceptic candidates. If UKIP are now going to focus resources on those Tory MPs and candidates who accept the European status quo there will be an increased incentive for Conservative Associations to select more Eurosceptic candidates. The devil is always in the detail, of course, and it will be interesting to see how Lord Rannoch and Nigel Farage have defined ‘Eurosceptic.’
It may be that support of the Better Off Out campaign is necessary to qualify to be ‘Eurosceptic’ – a campaign that enjoys the support of at least a third of Tory members. Jim Allister MEP, Jeffrey Donaldson MP, Iris Robinson MP, Sammy Wilson MP and David Simpson MP of the Democratic Unionist Party have signed up to BOO today.