Tories attempt to capitalise on eurosceptic sentiment

House Of Commons Speakers Table

The Tories are tactically trying to tap into eurosceptic sentiment with the cabinet reshuffle and nomination to the European Commission.

With the European elections over and the spotlight no longer focussed on Ukip, the Conservatives are not missing their chance to make the most out of the situation.

A recent Guardian/ICM poll placed support for Ukip at 9%, down by a considerable 7 points from the 16% rating it received in last month. All three major political parties have benefited from the drop in Ukip support; however it is the Tories who have acquired the most sizeable proportion, taking them up three points to 34%.

Martin Boon, the director of ICM research, highlights a trend: in that “Ukip also dropped to a similar extent, from 18% in the ICM/Guardian May 2013 poll to 12% the following June." He goes on to identify that for many members of the public, there is simply “no reason to commit just yet”.

The Tories are all too aware of the indecisive nature of the protest camp, and have been seizing every opportunity that comes their way to sway the electorate. Beginning on the 14th of July, the cabinet reshuffle serves as a prime example of how the Cameron is trying capitalise on anti-EU sentiment.

Newly appointed Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, says that the European election results had proved telling of how “the country is Eurosceptic now”.

On BBC Radio 4's Today program, Fallon commented that the reshuffle had “certainly” resulted in a “Eurosceptic cabinet”. To exemplify his point, one has to look no further than Philip Hammond the new Foreign Secretary, who is far more overtly eurosceptic than his predecessors.

It seems the new cabinet has been carefully selected in order to reassure voters that the Conservatives are the party to deal with the issue of Europe. Considering the recent drop in Ukip support, the reshuffle appears to have been undertaken at just the right time to aid the Tories in solidifying their gains.

Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats, disagreed with the notion that the cabinet was now wholly eurosceptic. Clegg asserted that as long as the Lib Dems were a part of the government it would continue to be “firmly anchored” in both Europe and the centre ground.

The Tory quest to be seen as tough on Europe can also be observed in the nomination of Jonathan Hill as the UK's European Commissioner. Hill, also the former Leader of the House of Lords, isn't regarded as particularly hardline in his anti-European views, however his voting record reveals he is very much in favour of a referendum on any further transfer of powers to Brussels. Putting forward a moderately sceptical candidate for the position is an antagonistic move on Cameron's part.

It is clear that the Tories are stepping up their pursuit of a eurosceptic agenda in order to secure electoral support but even with a referendum on the EU promised for 2017 and some tactical appointments to key posts, it remains to be seen if all this will prove enough to keep any support gained from returning to Ukip once the general election draws closer.