George Osborne has rejected the idea that Conservatives could form local pacts with Ukip candidates at the 2015 General Election – something Nigel Farage has previously said he would not stand in the way of.
Although the Ukip leader has ruled out a formal election deal between the two right-of-centre parties, he this weekend said that local Ukip associations would be free to form constituency-level deals –even with Labour MPs - if they felt it would be a “better way to serve constituents”.
However, when asked by Sky News if the Conservative MPs would consider working with Ukip, the Chancellor this morning said: “The short answer is no. What the Conservative Party is doing is talking to the country, in marked contrast to the other political parties who are talking about themselves and positioning themselves.”
He added: “We are making a very straightforward offer to the hard-working people of this country, to say we are on your side and we are going to help you buy your own home, help you get a job, help you get a better job, help you keep more of your income tax-free.”
Mr Osborne's comments came after William Hague insisted that Tories “don't make pacts with other parties” and instead issued a caution to wavering supporters that they risk letting Labour into power if they vote Ukip.
A number of high-profile Conservatives have floated the possibility of an alliance with Ukip in the run-up to the election to avoid splitting the right-wing vote, including MP Jacob Rees-Mogg who suggested that Mr Farage's party would expect to get some MPs out of any deal.
A ComRes survey found 22% of Tory local councillors supported a pact but Mr Hague told Pienaar's Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live: “I do rule that out.
Writing in The Times, Mr Farage said: “If either they, or others like them, even Labour MPs, with their local associations, chose to propose running on a joint ticket then I would leave the local Ukip association to have those associations.
“If after discussions they feel that it would be a better way to serve their constituents, then I and the National Executive Committee would be happy to hear reasoning. After all we are a party that believes in real localism and doesn't think that the centre is the repository of all wisdom.”
Conservative party chiefs were accused of trying to “stifle debate” on the issue after an advert for a fringe meeting featuring Mr Farage failed to appear in the official conference guide.
The Ukip leader is tipped to draw a big crowd after being invited to speak at an event organised by the Thatcherite Bruges Group at Manchester Town Hall - one of the largest conference venues.
But despite having its £250 payment for a plug for the meeting accepted, the group - named for Baroness Thatcher's speech about a European “super state” - was told the ad had been pulled.
Bruges Group director Robert Oulds said: “It is wrong that they are trying to hide this meeting from party members at the conference… I am concerned that the party may be trying to stifle debate on this subject.
He added: “Instead of ignoring the problem, we have to start to have a debate and to understand each other.”