Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, said he could see that the questioner, Michael Crick of Channel 4 News, had prepared an elephant
trap for him. Paterson rejected any attempt to divide the electorate into segments: “We want to reach out to everybody, whether voting UKIP or Liberal.”
In Paterson’s view, it is essential to bring home to people tempted to support “all these other exciting parties” that “if you vote for any of them you’ll end up with Mr Miliband”.
Tim Montgomerie, founder of ConservativeHome, pointed out that Paterson “did not rule out” doing deals with UKIP. Paterson protested vehemently at this interpretation, but Montgomerie went on: “Although I can’t see a Tory-UKIP pact nationally, it will happen locally. These pacts will emerge.”
Andrew Mitchell, former International Development Secretary, said the answer to Crick’s “seductive question is No”, and declared that UKIP
voters can be won back: “I do believe that many of them are our cousins and they are biddable.”
Lord Ashcroft, the proprietor of ConservativeHome, had already presented polling which showed that David Cameron’s “biggest downside”
is being seen as “out of touch” with ordinary people. The Tories have “made very little progress” in being seen to be on the side of ordinary people, and also stand to lose all 32 Conservative-held Labour target seats because of the increase in the UKIP vote.
Paterson drew comfort from the conviction that “the vast majority of people are small-c conservatives”. The country had fallen for a time into the hands of “two wickedly, cretinously inept politicians, Blair and Brown”, during which “the little men in the back room” were Miliband and Balls, who are now “posing as a potential Prime Minister and Chancellor”.
Mitchell said the Tories had made “a dramatic advance over the past three years” in “winning back that strong reputation for economic competence” which was lost on Black Wednesday in 1992.
“I would advise buying shares in George Osborne,” Mitchell said. “He’s a recovery stock and I believe his shares are currently undervalued.”
Lord Ashcroft observed that there is “a wide variety of reasons” why people support UKIP, and they needed to be told that “only by voting for the Conservatives will they get them”.
Linda Freeman, from Brighton and Hove, observed that the panel consisted of four “white middle-class men”, and suggested that “maybe we should have more women speakers”.
Paul Goodman, chairing the event for ConservativeHome, said this was part of a much larger question about getting more women into senior
positions in the party, which is indeed happening, with many more women elected as Tory MPs.
Everyone agreed that the increase in the number of high-level women is strengthening the party. Mitchell said: “Although Lord Ashcroft may not be a woman, I know he’s very much in touch with his feminine side.”