29 Apr 2013

Cameron steps into election ring, but dodges Ukip comment

I am in Somerset watching David Cameron campaigning. The Tories won this council in their 2009 hey day off the Lib Dems.

Here, as elsewhere, the danger for the Tories is that Ukip do enough damage to the Tory vote to let the Lib Dems back in or more plausibly lose overall control of the council.

So what is the Tory line on the Ukip threat?

Is it Ken Clarke’s portrait of them as bigoted lunatics or Boris Johnson’s line in the Daily Telegraph today that they’re “fundamentally indistinguishable” from Tories?

I asked David Cameron that question at a Morrisons distribution centre in Bridgwater and he wasn’t keen to engage with it, not keen either to comment on his own past reference to Ukip as fruitcakes, loonies and closet bigots. The truth is when he said that it was 2006 and he had no idea how important they would become in his political life story. Squeezing them back into their box and scraping back support in the 2015 general election is now one of his central political missions.

On the basis of a few chats with Morrisons workers it is far from being a job done.

I asked about the universal pensioner benefits like winter fuel allowance and he sounded to me like a man not minded to drop that commitment from his 2015 manifesto. I asked him about the Telegraph splash today suggesting that the fences of some ring-fenced budgets might have some useful holes in them – the article suggests the MOD may save hundreds of millions by getting some of its current health spending reclassified as NHS spending. The PM sounded like someone who was up for that kind of switch although he didn’t confirm it was happening.

He accepted that capital spending injections over the last few years were “nothing like as big” as the massive capital spending cuts made in 2010. He wouldn’t sign up to Nick Clegg’s regret expressed in a January interview with The House magazine that the coalition had overdone capital spending cuts.

On the subject of Boris, I thought one of the most interesting lines in the Sunday Times magazine interview with the PM was when he let slip that he’d watched the BBC profile of Boris Johnson by Michael Cockerell.

That’s quite a chunk of what he was explaining were very packed, hard-working days … never let your rivals out of your sight?

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