Tory activists considering voting Ukip in May - and may never come back

Political Editor

More than one in three Conservative Party members are seriously considering voting for the UK Independence Party in next month’s European elections, according to a new study.

These alienated Conservative activists are not only attracted by Ukip’s stance on Europe and immigration. They are also motivated by a dislike of David Cameron because they see him as “centrist” and “liberal” - with his social liberalism shown though his support for gay marriage.

The authors warn that for this group, voting Ukip in the Euro elections may not be a one-off protest, as the Conservatives hope, but a first step towards leaving the Tories and joining Nigel Farage’s party. This would boost Ukip’s prospects at next year’s general election, giving it more footsoldiers on the ground.

The research found that the grassroots Tories most tempted by Ukip lean a little more to the left than their fellow members on the economy and public services. But they are significantly more conservative “culturally and socially”.

Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, a co-author of the study, said: “Voting for Ukip could be the first step on a road that sees some Tory members eventually joining Nigel Farage’s party. That might provide Ukip with a stream of experienced activists who could boost its already effective insurgent campaign. If that happens, the next general election is going to be very difficult indeed for David Cameron.”

Prof Bale added: “Members may be more ideological than most voters, but if they don’t feel they’re getting what they want from leaders who they can’t identify with then – just like more and more voters these days – they prepared to take a punt on what they see as a more attractive alternative. This really challenges our assumptions about grassroots members in Britain and other countries. The common wisdom says that they’re a guaranteed source of votes for their party. But it looks like a combination of policy concerns and ideological differences with their leader can trump their institutional loyalty.”

 

The study, based on a YouGov survey of 850 Tory members, found that those most likely to vote Ukip are significantly to the left of those Tories least likely to switch but are also “significantly more socially authoritarian”. So it seems that their “cultural conservatism” rather than their politics draws them towards Ukip.

“They are particularly concerned about immigration and the EU. Perhaps most alarmingly for the [Conservative] party, they do not feel valued or respected by their own leadership, while they regard David Cameron - their own party leader and the country’s prime minister - as ideologically more remote from them than Ukip,” says the study, reported in the journal Political Studies.

Prof Bale and his co-author Paul Webb, professor of politics at Sussex University, said the Tory activists’ views may not necessarily be shared by the party’s supporters who are not members. On the other hand, if a significant number of Tory supporters do share them, that would be “cold comfort” because they would have “no institutional bonds of loyalty”.

They warned Mr Cameron it would be a mistake to match the offer from the “populist radical right” because the number of “culturally conservative” voters is likely to shrink over time. And Ukip could respond by simply “upping the ante”.

Conservative strategists hope to woo back potential Ukip voters by focusing on the improving economy, immigration and welfare in the Euro election campaign and underlining Mr Cameron’s pledge to hold an in/out referendum on Europe in 2017.

However, the antipathy towards Mr Cameron revealed in the study could make Tory waverers doubt his promise on Monday that he would not remain prime minister after the general election if he could not deliver a referendum.

Meanwhile, Ukip has begun expulsion procedures against two members after an internal investigation found that one had been a member of the BNP and the other had given money to the English Defence League, organisations incompatible with Ukip membership.

William Henwood, who was a Ukip candidate in Enfield in next month’s London borough elections, resigned from the party over his remarks suggesting that the comedian Lenny Henry should emigrate to a “black country.” A Ukip spokesman said: “Mr Henwood’s remarks about Lenny Henry caused enormous offence.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Managing Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Recruitment Genius: Advertisement Sales Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A publishing company based in F...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Affiliates & Partnerships

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This multi-award winning foreig...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor