David Cameron will today appeal directly to Conservative supporters who have defected to the UK Independence Party to return to the Tory fold.
Launching the Conservatives’ campaign for the 22 May European and local elections, he will say that Ukip cannot deliver the in/out referendum on Europe he has promised if he remains in power. A Tory poster shows a referendum ballot box with the words: “Labour and the Lib Dems won’t. Ukip can’t. We will in 2017.”
Speaking in the West Midlands, the Prime Minister will ask Eurosceptic voters who doubt he will deliver his referendum pledge to judge him on his record of vetoing an EU treaty, cutting the EU budget and pulling the UK out of the eurozone bailout scheme.
“Others talk about acting in the national interest or standing up to Europe, I do it, time and again - often In the teeth of opposition in Brussels and with a backdrop of uncertainty about whether it can really happen at home,” he will say.
Mr Cameron will promise voters that he would not form another coalition with the Lib Dems after next year’s general election unless they backed a 2017 referendum. “For me this is a fundamental principle. And I would not be Prime Minister of a Government unless we could carry out our pledge of an in-out referendum. Because the British people deserve their say, and I will make sure they get it,” he will say.
Mr Cameron’s move is a clear sign that the Tories are rattled by the remarkable rise of Nigel Farage’s party. Despite a series of embarrassing and offensive remarks by some Ukip candidates and activists, the latest opinion polls suggest it is on course to come top in the Euro elections, relegating the Tories to a humiliating third place in a national election for the first time.
Ukip will counter Mr Cameron’s appeal by reminding voters that he promised a referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty before the 2010 election but failed to deliver it. Ukip leaders are confident that the lack of trust in mainstream parties will limit the impact of the Prime Minister’s latest pledge.
Launching Labour’s European and local election effort in Redbridge yesterday, Ed Miliband made only a passing reference to Europe, making clear he would put “the cost of living crisis” at the heart of his party’s campaign. He told voters that Labour MEPs’ priority would not be “leaving the EU, but changing it, so that it can work to raise living standards for hardworking families in Britain” and to work for growth and jobs.
Mr Miliband has rejected internal Labour pressure to match Mr Cameron’s pledge of an in/out referendum. Labour would hold such a vote before Britain transferred more power to Brussels but admits a referendum in the 2015-20 parliament would be “unlikely” under a Labour government. If Labour does not do well at the Euro elections, some Labour MPs will press him to make a firm commitment to a referendum.
The Lib Dems admit they have taken a “big gamble” by brandishing their pro-European credentials rather than adopting the safety-first approach of not talking much about Europe in a European election.
In effect, Nick Clegg is asking pro-Europeans to lend their votes to his party to try to raise its nine per cent average poll rating into double figures, so it avoids the meltdown of losing all 12 of its MEPs. But some Lib Dems fear the party could even come fifth behind the Greens.