Eric Pickles says Conservatives need to win back support from Ukip, but Patrick McLoughlin dismisses party as a political force
Senior Conservatives appeared to be split on Sunday over how they should tackle the growing electoral threat from the UK Independence party, which has risen to third in the polls.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles said Ukip should be taken seriously and the Conservatives could win back support from the eurosceptic party by engaging with it on local issues.
The transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said he would only start worrying when Ukip started winning byelections.
Three weekend polls – ComRes for the Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror, Survation for the Mail on Sunday, and Opinium for The Observer – showed a surge in support for Ukip, putting the party in third place on 14%, well ahead of the Lib Dems on 8% to 9%.
Speaking on the Sky News Murnaghan programme, Pickles ruled out a future pact with Ukip, but said their supporters’ concerns should be addressed by the Tories.
“Ukip represent a voice and I’m firmly of the view the only way you deal with them is to get dug in and to fight them on the ground on community issues.
“Governments sometimes have to make very difficult decisions, and midterm you would expect a party of opposition … I wouldn’t disagree with that. But I do take them very seriously,” he said.
McLoughlin told Andrew Neil’s Sunday Politics programme the party was “no SDP”, referring to the emergence of the Social Democratic party in the 80s.
Ukip has attacked Cameron’s support for gay marriage while insisting it supports civil partnerships. McLoughlin disagreed with his constituency chairman, who said the party was losing votes to Ukip over gay marriage. He said: “I think you have to make decisions in government. You have to do so in progressive social legislation and the voters can take their choice when the general election comes.”
In a statement, Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage, said his party was becoming the third party across Britain. “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.”