A lawmaker from Britain’s ruling Conservative party defected to the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), dealing a blow to Prime Minister David Cameron on the eve of his party’s annual conference.
In more bad news for Cameron, an opinion poll showed voters view him slightly less favorably than UKIP leader Nigel Farage, and a junior minister resigned over a story in a Sunday newspaper that he had sent sexually explicit pictures of himself to an undercover reporter.
The defection of Mark Reckless, the member of parliament for Rochester and Strood in southern England, is the second in just over four weeks, and comes eight months before a national election in which UKIP could threaten Cameron’s re-election chances.
Reckless told UKIP’s annual conference that as a Conservative politician he felt he had not been able to keep his promises to voters, one of which was to get the country out of the European Union.
“People feel ignored, taken for granted, over-taxed, over-regulated, ripped off and lied to,” Reckless said. “I do feel that the leadership of the Conservative party is part of the problem that is holding our country back.”
UKIP wants an immediate British withdrawal from the EU and an end to what it calls an “open door” immigration policy. It has no seats in the British parliament but won May’s European elections in Britain after taking votes from the Conservatives.
Cameron has led a coalition since 2010 with the Liberal Democrats, who have suffered a sharp fall in support. If he wins power again next year, he has said he would hold a referendum in 2017 on whether to stay in or quit the EU. Before then, he has promised to try to renegotiate Britain’s ties with the 28-member bloc.
In another setback for Cameron, Conservative MP Brooks Newmark said in a statement he was resigning as minister for civil society over a story in a Sunday newspaper. He appealed to the media to respect his family’s privacy.
The Sunday Mirror said he had sent “X-rated” pictures of himself to an undercover reporter who was pretending to be a young female activist. Cameron’s Downing Street office said the prime minister had accepted Newmark’s resignation, but it declined to comment further.
A survey by pollsters Comres for The Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror showed the main opposition party, Labor, had stretched its lead over the Conservatives to 6 percentage points, with the latter down 3 since last month to 29%. UKIP were on 19% and the Liberal Democrats on 7%.
The poll found 26% of voters had a favorable view of UKIP leader Farage, compared with 25% for Cameron, whose party conference opened on Sunday in the central city of Birmingham.
With the latest defection, Cameron now faces the uncomfortable prospect of by-elections in two constituencies where former Conservatives will stand for UKIP. The first of these will take place on October 9.