Some will welcome the by election result this morning. I cannot, because it just reminds us how split the Eurosceptic movement is. UKIP want to deny that many Conservatives are good Eurosceptics, to diminish the Eurosceptic army. Their tests of purity make it impossible for them to unite the movement and gain a majority.Indeed, some UKIP supporters now are so exclusive that anyone who fails to join their party by definition cannot be a Eurosceptic. Some Conservatives get cross with UKIP for splitting the movement, and a few well known Conservatives condemn some Eurosceptic policies, making it more difficult for committed UKIP voters to trust Conservatives. They do not speak for the party, but that gets ignored.
The end result of the battle of Conservative against UKIP is little has changed for Rochester or in the Commons. UKIP merely sought to relabel a Conservative MP, who was already speaking and voting in a very Eurosceptic manner as a Conservative. There are no more Eurosceptic voices and votes in the Commons today than yesterday That is why I can neither rejoice nor welcome what has happened.
UKIP will argue that something has changed for the General Election. They will hope their good vote here will lead to better votes in May 2015. The polls suggest that if the UKIP vote stays in the range 10-20% nationwide there will be no breakthrough in seats, but the UKIP effect is to help Labour. I remind people of this not because I wish to use it as an argument, nor because I am pleased it is true. Far from it. I raise it because it just shows how difficult it is to do the right thing for Euroscepticism given the competition for votes.
What do I mean by Euroscepticism? I mean that majority view in the UK which thinks our current relationship with the EU is not working. The majority think we are paying too much and getting too little back. They think there are too many rules and the UK has to impose and enforce them too strongly. They think the UK should be able to control its own borders and settle its own welfare policies without accepting EU directions to open the borders and pay the same to anyone who comes.
This is not yet the same as a reliable majority wanting simply to leave the EU as UKIP suggest. The public understand that the UK does have to have a trading and working relationship with the continent, and think it probably best to try to sort this out first. If we were able to hold an In/Out referendum now without any negotiation first there is no guarantee the Outs would win. If we can have a negotiation and then a referendum the majority will be able to come to sensible view in the light of what has or has not been achieved by negotiation. If UKIP are right in thinking nothing worthwhile will be offered the UK then winning for Out will be much easier.
That is why I would like Eurosceptics to unite to fight for that negotiation and referendum which we Eurosceptic Conservatives have persuaded our leader to offer. Revolutions end in tears when the radicals fall out over how far and quickly to go in their agreed direction instead of concentrating on maximising support for reform. The issue is not my or your purity of intent in our Euroscepticism. The issue is not what divides us. The issue is how can we harness a majority movement which gets us out from Brussels control in the way the majority want and need.