UK Politics

Nigel Farage says 'couple of dozen' Tory MPs want pact

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Media captionUKIP's Nigel Farage backs local level Tory pacts

The UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, estimates that "a couple of dozen" Conservative MPs would be interested in an election pact with his party.

Mr Farage said he had had "informal discussions with a handful" of Conservative MPs, "no more than that".

The Conservative MP, Philip Hollobone, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One Mr Farage's estimate was "spot on".

He added that he was "very fortunate" to have been backed by UKIP at the 2010 general election.

The party's then-leader, Lord Pearson, actively campaigned for Mr Hollobone in his constituency, Kettering.

"UKIP backed my candidacy and that was great," Mr Hollobone said. "There are no legal complications with that and as politicians we are always trying to attract support from wherever we get it."

'Entirely their business'

Mr Hollobone said he had not been involved in any discussions about the 2015 poll.

Asked if the Conservatives would tolerate similar informal arrangements in 2015, the party's chairman Grant Shapps said: "I want every opposing party to support our candidates."

He added: "Conservatives are going to stand in all 650 seats. What other parties do is entirely their business."

David Campbell Bannerman, a Conservative MEP who defected from UKIP, is also in favour of a deal between the two parties, because he fears Mr Farage's party will be an "obstacle" to a Tory majority and the goal of an in/out EU referendum.

"Nigel has always wanted a deal with the Tories. He is instinctively a Tory," Mr Campbell Bannerman told BBC News.

He added: "Six months out from the election we are going to have talk seriously about some form of agreement. Pact is too strong a word."

But Jacqueline Foster, Conservative MEP for the North-West of England, rejected out of hand any talk of a deal with the anti-EU party.

"I am not looking at pacts. They have got their tanks on my lawn and I want them off," she told BBC News.

Earlier Chancellor George Osborne ruled out the prospect of Tory election candidates standing on joint tickets with UKIP.

UKIP's rise in national opinion polls and recent strong performances at Westminster by-elections have led some Tories to warn a split in the centre-right vote would make it easier for Labour to form the next government.

Mr Farage, who is speaking at fringe meetings at the Tory conference, has ruled out any national pact with the Conservatives while David Cameron is leader.

But he suggested he would not stand in the way of arrangements at a constituency level, either with Conservative or Labour candidates.

'Talking to the country'

Tory MP Nadine Dorries has suggested in the past she could run on a joint ticket while backbenchers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Fabricant have argued a formal pact would boost the Tories' electoral prospects.

A ComRes survey for BBC One's Sunday Politics suggested 22% of Tory local councillors supported a pact with the UKIP.

But Mr Osborne said the party should not countenance deals with any other parties.

"The short answer is no," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"What the Conservative Party is doing is talking to the country, in marked contrast to the other political parties who are talking about themselves and positioning themselves."

The Conservatives have said only they are offering the public a real choice on Europe, with the promise of a referendum on the UK's re-negotiated membership in 2017.

Senior figures have warned Conservative supporters thinking of voting for UKIP that this could allow Labour - who have ruled out a referendum in the foreseeable future - to win power.

"We've got a big, simple offer for the country," Mr Osborne added. "The economy is on the right track and we are going to see our plan through."