UKIP must be taken seriously, but an electoral pact is not the way to beat them at the ballot box, a senior Conservative said yesterday.
Three weekend polls showed a surge of support for Ukip, putting them in third place on 14 per cent, well ahead of the Lib Dems on 8 or 9 per cent.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the Conservatives could win back support from the eurosceptic party, but only by engaging with it on local issues on the ground.
He attacked Ukip leader Nigel Farage for playing politics with gay marriage, insisting the Tories would have a free vote on the issue rather than try to pander to different political interests.
However, Mr Farage said: “This series of opinion polls – following the TNS poll earlier this week, which put Ukip on a record-breaking 16 per cent – make it crystal clear that Ukip are now the third party of choice in the public mind.
“We have never claimed to be at the centre of received opinion in the Westminster bubble, but in the country at large, people are beginning to look at what we stand for and what we have to say and are realising that it is Ukip that represents the centre ground of mainstream public opinion.”
Mr Farage’s claim that Ukip was now the “third party” was dismissed by former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell.
“How many councillors have they got? How many MPs have they got?” he said on Sky News’s Murnaghan programme.
“Ukip are clearly benefiting from some of the difficulties of the Conservative Party. This is an issue for the Tories rather than anyone else.”