'Badly behaved men on a stag night': is this what the Tories think of their own voters supporting Ukip in the European elections?
Exclusive: No 10’s adviser accused of likening wayward Tories to grooms indulging in a final fling
Tory voters who support Ukip in this month’s European elections are like grooms on their stag night who indulge in bad behaviour before settling down and being responsible, David Cameron’s communications chief has suggested.
In controversial remarks made to a private meeting, Craig Oliver is said to have likened Ukip voters to men who wanted a “last chance to have a bit of fun” – before returning to vote Tory again at the general election.
Mr Oliver used the analogy to answer a question about the Tories’ strategy to counter the threat of Ukip in the European elections.
He said the “stag night” comparison had been raised with Conservatives on the doorstep before adding that he wasn’t sure he entirely agreed with “all the sentiments” expressed.
Some members of the audience at the event last Tuesday, which was organised for BBC journalists and executives under so-called “Chatham House rules” that are meant to preserve the anonymity of speakers, said they had been taken back by the “crass” nature of the remarks.
“I don’t know if it was an attempt at humour but it didn’t really come across that way,” said one. “I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Has he really just said what I think he has?’”
Another said: “It was a very ill-advised phrase. He seemed to be saying that voting Ukip was the equivalent of getting drunk, sleeping with a prostitute and ending up in the gutter.”
Mr Oliver, who himself used to work for BBC as editor of the News at Ten, did not deny that he had made the analogy. But he insisted he had made it very clear that he did not agree with it.
“What I said was that there was an occasion on the doorstep when we had heard somebody say that they likened voting Ukip to bad behaviour on a stag night,” he told The Independent. “I specifically said that is not a view that I subscribe to. It was not my view: I was merely reporting it. It would be wrong to suggest in any way that it was.
“It is obvious somebody is trying to suggest that this was my view. It is something that a voter said. I don’t know exactly where it was.”
During the event, which was also addressed by senior Labour and Liberal Democrat spin doctors, Mr Oliver also reportedly refused to commit the Tories to taking part in live election broadcasts in the run up to next May.
Repeatedly pressed to commit David Cameron to taking part, Mr Oliver is said to have responded that the party was too busy with the “business of government” for people to turn their minds to the TV debates. The remarks will fuel suspicions that the Tories are keen to ensure that they do not take place by delaying negotiations until the last minute and then raising objections over the format.
On Ukip, Mr Oliver’s comments provide an insight into how the Conservatives intend to tackle what they expect to be a very strong showing from Nigel Farage’s party at the European elections.
They will argue that a vote for Ukip would be wasted at the general election and would simply allow Labour into power. But Tory strategists are understood to be concerned that this message may not “cut through” to large numbers of those voters who have switched their support to Ukip.
In an email message being sent out to Conservative supporters today Mr Cameron makes no mention of Ukip, instead telling activists to concentrate on the economy.
“Our message is clear, consistent and unrelenting,” he tells them. “The general election is one year away. For each of those 365 days, the Conservatives have one clear message: we are the team that is turning Britain around.”
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