UK Conservative chief urges no UKIP-led lurch to right

Tue Jan 1, 2013 3:20pm GMT

* Right-wing UK Independence Party surging in popularity

* Ruling Conservatives fear split in right-wing vote

* UKIP wants to exit EU, end "uncontrolled immigration"

By Mohammed Abbas

LONDON, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Britain's ruling Conservatives should not tack to the right to counter the increasingly popular anti-European UK Independence Party, and should instead reach out to new supporters, the party's chairman said on Tuesday.

Polls this week confirmed the UK Independence Party's (UKIP) surge in popularity in 2012, with an Observer newspaper survey showing its support had shot to 15 percent from 4.5 percent at the start of the year.

UKIP vows to pull Britain out of the 27-member EU bloc and end "mass, uncontrolled immigration".

The Euro zone debt crisis and austerity measures in Britain have helped fuel scepticism over the EU and boost UKIP's fortunes, raising Conservative fears about a split in the right-wing vote ahead of parliamentary elections in 2015.

Some Conservative lawmakers have taken UKIP's success as a sign the party must bolster its right-wing credentials, but some experts warn that could alienate centrists and leave the party catering to a smaller, right-wing core.

The Observer poll shows Conservative support at 29 percent, 10 percentage points behind Labour, the main opposition party.

"It's my job to win a Conservative majority at the next election. But that won't be achieved through fearing the ghosts of the political right, or obsessing over the fortunes of others," Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps wrote in an opinion piece in Britain's Telegraph newspaper.

"We're targeting seats in all parts of the country; we are not just bolstering support in our heartlands - though they will be supported - but reaching out to new supporters in areas where we traditionally haven't done as well," he added.

CHALLENGE FOR PM CAMERON

Shapps did not mention UKIP by name, but the article appeared aimed at countering a flurry of evidence of UKIP's success at targeting right-leaning voters, and at least one Conservative lawmaker has suggested an election pact with UKIP.

After a string of strong showings in local elections last year, UKIP, which was founded in 1993, has declared itself Britain's "third political party" - ahead of Britain's traditional third party the Liberal Democrats.

In an MSN News poll on Monday, UKIP leader Nigel Farage was named the top British politician of 2012, comfortably ahead of Prime Minister David Cameron in second place, although almost half of respondents picked "none of the above".

UKIP's success has made life more difficult for Cameron, who is under pressure to set out in the coming weeks how he aims to reshape Britain's EU ties amid calls for a referendum on whether to leave the bloc altogether.

Cameron does not want Britain to leave the EU, a crucial trading partner, and has instead pledged to change Britain's relationship with the bloc and seek the public's "fresh consent" for the new deal, perhaps through a referendum.

Commenting on the MSN poll, Farage said he was "delighted" by the vote of confidence, but focused on the 48 percent of respondents who picked no candidate for politician of the year.

"The clear message from this poll is that the entire political class is held in contempt," he said.

"I am just lucky to be held in less contempt than the rest of them."