Tory anger as MEP Helmer defects to UKIP

  • 5 March 2012
  • From the section England
  • comments

Euro MP Roger Helmer's decision to leave the Conservatives and defect to UKIP hasn't come as a huge surprise.

No doubt in Downing Street, 'Team Cameron' will be saying good riddance.

But for many Euro-sceptic Tories, the defection will be a disappointment. Mr Helmer may have some explaining to do.

He was first elected an MEP for the East Midlands 13 years ago and was always top of the Conservatives' regional list of candidates.

He'd led the charge for rank and file Tories unhappy over a host of issues - the EU, climate change and political correctness.

He is a one-man Daily Mail editorial and, for a Conservative Euro-sceptic audience, he was box office.

'Huge asset'

It's no surprise that UKIP leader Nigel Farage was full of praise for his new political prize.

"Roger will be a huge asset for UKIP. He says what many Tories feel about Europe and David Cameron's government," he said.

"I'm sure many other Tories will follow Roger and join UKIP."

The defection was announced at UKIP's spring conference at Skegness.

Over recent months, it was on the cards.

At the Conservative conference last October in Manchester, Helmer irritated the party high command by publishing an alternative leader's speech on the eve of David Cameron's big address.

Helmer's alternative was a wish list for Tories biting the carpet over the coalition; top of the pile was an early referendum for Britain to leave the EU.

But the big fall out was just before Christmas and Helmer's wish to step down early as an MEP.

At 68 and with two years until the next Euro elections, he said he wanted more time to spend with his grandchildren.

Political travel

He also attempted to manoeuvre his Conservative Euro-sceptic soul-mate Rupert Matthews as his replacement: Matthews was next candidate in line on the Conservatives' regional list.

The party leadership - worried about the prospect of another Helmer-style maverick - stalled the succession process.

Roger fumed and warned the party chairman Baroness Warsi of consequences.

So Helmer's direction of political travel took him to Skegness and the embrace of Nigel Farage.

But this former Conservative may find the political winds from Skegness becoming rather bracing.

His would-be successor Rupert Matthews voiced his dismay.

"I am shocked and disappointed at Roger Helmer's decision to betray his public promises to the people of the East Midlands and his private promises to his colleagues," said Mr Matthews in a statement.

Unrepentant figure

And Emma McClarkin, Helmer's former press officer and now the only East Midlands' Conservative MEP was equally angered.

"He has let down a lot of people and importantly the people who voted for the Conservative Party," she said.

The man himself is unrepentant.

"The fact is that UKIP represents the values and interests of East Midlands Conservatives much better than Cameron's Tory Party does," he said.

"I believe I can do a better job representing those views and interests as a member of UKIP than I could in the Tory Party."

But if David Cameron hopes Mr Helmer's defection removes a thorn, he may discover that this Tory is more of a nuisance now he's out of the party.