Insulting 'decent' Ukip voters will backfire – Lord Ashcroft warns Tories

"You’ve abused them, thrashed them, and you tell them they’re coming home to Daddy?"

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Indy Politics

Lord Ashcroft, the Conservatives’ former deputy chairman, has accused David Cameron of putting “two fingers” up to natural Tory supporters who are now supporting Ukip.

In a private meeting with fellow Tories, the businessman and former party donor warned that Mr Cameron’s “vote Miliband, get Ukip” message would backfire. He said the Tories had decided to “scream abuse” at “decent” former supporters and were telling them they were “dumb”.

A transcript of Lord Ashcroft’s remarks to a House of Commons meeting of Conservative Voice, a right-wing pressure group inside the party, has been obtained by The Independent. He said: “So now we have a great idea that we should say a vote for Ukip is a vote for Miliband. They’ll understand that. The problem is that what politicians often say and what the voters hear are very different.

A Ukip supporter campaigns outside the party’s offices in Rochester (EPA)

“So, we hold focus groups on this. And what’s the result, what do they really hear? They hear two fingers pointed at them, saying, ‘Oi, sunshine, when you wake up and realise how dumb, dumb, dumb you are, do you know what you are going to do? You are going to be back voting for me.’ So now you’ve got this group of Ukip voters, 95 per cent of whom are decent people, you’ve abused them, you’ve thrashed them, and now you tell them they’re coming home to Daddy?”

Lord Ashcroft, who carries out extensive opinion polling, said the Tories’ first reaction to the switchers was to “scream abuse at them”, adding with irony: “Great, absolutely superb move.” He also believes that Mr Cameron’s decision to legalise same-sex marriage was bound to “piss off” older, traditional Tories, leading to “another group going to Ukip”.

He warned that voters doubt Mr Cameron will honour his pledge to hold an in/out referendum on the EU in 2017. He said: “It’s either because they don’t believe Cameron will be Prime Minister or… [even if he is] there isn’t that degree of trust because he keeps shifting… It doesn’t matter what happens – he will still want us to remain within Europe.”

Phil Wilson, a Labour whip, said: “Lord Ashcroft has revealed what we all know: David Cameron is chasing off to the right in a desperate bid for votes and losing them in the process. The only question for Cameron is whether he will rule out forming a pact with Ukip before or after May 2015 to prevent more of his MPs jumping ship.”

Lord Ashcroft and the Conservative Party declined to comment. The Tories have consistently warned that voting Ukip could allow Labour to win power at next May’s general election by splitting the anti-Labour vote.