Since leaving the Conservative Party for UKIP, I have been astonished, and very gratified, to find that with a few exceptions the reaction from former Conservative colleagues was much more positive than I could have anticipated. The great majority understood and respected my decision, even though they may not have agreed with me (though some did).
But inevitably, there have been some criticisms. I just had a letter from a Branch Chairman criticising my decision, and I have replied in the following terms:
Dear Branch Chairman:
Thank you for your letter of March 26th, which I have only just received. I understand and respect your view, though you may be interested to know that a majority of Conservatives who have been in touch with me since my move to UKIP have taken a much more positive view.
You ask me why after years of association with the Conservative Party, I “finally gave up”. This is easily answered. I had been a party member for forty years or so, and a Conservative MEP for over twelve years. I had been “fighting from within the Party for what I believe is right”, as you put it, all that time, but I finally had to accept the reality that successive Conservative leaders simply have no intention of taking back powers from Brussels. Indeed this Tory-led government is handing powers to the EU faster than Blair and Brown did before them.
I concluded that the Conservative Party, like the EU, is beyond reform.
I may add that I have not changed the clear opinions which I expressed at successive selection meetings. I know from long experience that the views of rank-and-file Conservative Party members in the East Midlands are much closer to my own views than to those of the leadership. I can represent those views much more effectively from a Party which shares them, rather than from a Party which is embarrassed by them.
It is not just Europe. For me, disagreements on climate and energy have been equally important. I believe that our present energy policy (or lack of it) will on the one hand undermine our economic competitiveness and drive pensioners into fuel poverty. On the other hand it will jeopardise energy security and lead to serious shortages and black-outs by the end of the decade.
I have also been angry at the Tory positions on university admissions, grammar schools, Nanny-Statism, immigration, the ECHR, policing and defence. Indeed I struggle to find a Conservative policy that I doagree with. I think it was Andrew Lillico who said “UKIP may not be conservative, but at least it’s not as anti-conservative as the Tories”.
You probably take the view that in these circumstances I should have stood down in favour of Rupert Matthews, who was next on the list. I attempted to do so, but my attempt was blocked by Party Chairman Baroness Warsi, who has only herself to blame. I find that many Conservative MPs in the region are a great deal angrier with Baroness Warsi than they are with me.
I hope that in 2014 you will compare the UKIP manifesto for the euro-elections with the Conservative one. I think you will find that most of your members will find more to agree with in the UKIP document.