By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday's newspapers gave prominent attention to Michael Fabricant's suggestion of a Tory/UKIP pact but within hours both Nigel Farage and Grant Shapps had rejected the idea.
In order to establish grassroots views of the UKIP threat we held a snap poll of Tory members yesterday afternoon and evening and more than 1,350 voted. Although 48% of respondents thought a Tory/UKIP pact would be an effective way of dealing with the UKIP threat only 16% thought that it would be the single most effective response. Exactly 50% thought that the single best electoral response to UKIP was to make "a bankable commitment to hold an In/Out referendum on UK membership of the EU". 74% of members saw an In/Out commitment as an overall effective response to the UKIP threat with just 12% thinking that it was ineffective.
Grassroots Tories are aware that a referendum will no longer be enough to kill the UKIP threat completely. Two-thirds (68%) agreed that "UKIP is now a party with strong views on immigration, foreign aid and gay marriage. It will still be a threat even if the Tories have a stronger Europe policy."
But even if there is no single bullet point to deal with UKIP Tory members are overwhelming in their view that the Tory leadership needed to do more about the UKIP threat:
- 91% agreed that "the leakage of Tory voters to UKIP will make it much harder for the Conservative Party to keep or win marginal seats at the next election";
- Only 25% agreed that "the Tory leadership should not worry about UKIP but should focus on winning over Lib Dem and Labour wavering voters". I have argued that a Conservative Party focused on winning the common rather than the centre ground can simultaneously win over Lib Dem, Labour AND UKIP voters. We know, for example, that the clear majority of Labour leaning voters are deeply Eurosceptic.
- 64% say "David Cameron should apologise for his 2006 remarks in which he likened some UKIP members to "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists"."
There is a theory that obsessing about Europe and UKIP will damage Tory chances at the next election. Tory members are of the view that dealing with the European issue now is necessary to ensure the core Eurosceptic vote is locked in now and we can then begin outreach to floating voters. 74% agree that "If Cameron addresses the European issue he will unite the Conservative Party and we can then focus our campaigning on bread and butter issues like petrol tax, NHS waiting times and energy prices." Only 17% disagree.