Prime Minister David Cameron said there will be no “lurch to the right” after his Conservative Party slumped to third place behind the euroskeptic U.K. Independence Party in a special election last week.
Britain’s future “will only be won if we reject the cynicism, the political calculation and the easy ways out -- and stick to the course we are on,” Cameron wrote in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
His party’s showing in the Eastleigh ballot on Feb. 28 has left Cameron facing the question of how he can revive support to keep power in the 2015 general election. The Tories failed to take votes from their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, who retained the seat. While less than two months ago Cameron pledged a referendum on European Union membership, the Tories lost support to UKIP, which wants Britain to pull out of the EU.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the Conservatives had been punished by their own supporters after adopting traditionally non-Tory positions, including backing for same-sex marriage.
“The real problem the Conservatives have got isn’t UKIP,” he told BBC Television’s “Andrew Marr Show” today. “The real problem is their own supporters look at a Conservative Party that used to talk about wealth creation, low tax and enterprise and it now talks about gay marriage and wind farms.”
Speaking on the same program, Foreign Secretary William Hague, a Conservative, said Cameron was right not to consider a change of course. “In a by-election of course people can have a bit of an indulgence but a general election is a choice,” he said. In the U.K., special elections to the House of Commons are known as by-elections.
Cameron is struggling to revive an economy that has barely grown since his government took office in May 2010 and now stands on the brink of an unprecedented triple-dip recession. Moody’s Investors Service stripped the U.K. of its top debt rating on Feb. 22 and a report on March 1 showing manufacturing unexpectedly shrank last month sent the pound below $1.50 for the first time since July 2010.
A YouGov Plc poll for today’s Sunday Times newspaper showed Cameron’s approval rating fell to minus 23 from minus 15 and that almost two-thirds of voters think his government is managing the economy badly. The survey of 1,897 adults, taken Feb. 28 and March 1, gave the opposition Labour Party an 11 percentage point lead over the Tories.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat, said the weaker pound would boost exports and that priority was to unlock infrastructure projects to get the economy moving.
“My colleagues in government will be arguing very, very strongly for a much a much heavier emphasis on capital spending and infrastructure and getting these big project moving,” he told BBC Television.
Defense Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday stoked coalition tensions by saying that his department should be protected from any further budget cuts and instead savings should be made by squeezing welfare costs.
Cable said more welfare cuts would prove “very difficult,” while Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron said Hammond’s argument was “ludicrous” at a time when the Tories want to spend billions of pounds to renew Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent.
“I heard Philip Hammond making those comments and you think at a time like this to think that it’s more important to be investing money into Trident or something like that, rather than protecting those people who are the least well off in our society -- that would be morally wrong as well as just economically stupid,” Farron told the “Andrew Marr Show.”
Farron also signaled the Liberal Democrats were keeping an open mind on whether to support Labour in a parliamentary vote on its plan to levy extra tax on houses valued at more than 2 million pounds ($3 million). While the Liberal Democrats favor the so-called mansion tax to help raise revenue, the Conservatives are opposed.
“We’re all ears,” Farron said. “My view is not we should be lured into any parliamentary trap by Labour but then again sometimes you just have to look at things at face value.”
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