EXCL Former chief whip Mark Harper: I understand why Tory voters won't back us at the European elections
A former government chief whip has said he understands why some Conservatives will not vote for the party at the European elections.
In an interview with The House magazine, Mark Harper said he realised the Government failure to deliver Brexit had angered many of its natural supporters.
He also said his party was on course for its worst set of national results in its history on 23 May – and refused to rule out running for the Tory leadership once the Prime Minister stands down.
Opinion polls suggest Nigel Farage’s newly-formed Brexit Party could come first in the European elections, with many eurosceptic Tories set to support them.
Meanwhile the Tories are languishing on just 13 points, according to a recent YouGov poll.
When asked whether he plans to vote Conservative himself, Mr Harper, who voted to Remain, replied: “Yes, because I’ve always voted Conservative since I’ve been able to vote, and I will vote Conservative at every election in the future.
“But I can completely understand why people who have voted for us regularly might not vote for us.
“I had lots of people I talked to last week who normally vote Conservative and have voted Conservative all the time and were very frustrated about us not having delivered Brexit and I wasn’t able to persuade them to vote for us last week.
“I’ve had lots and lots of conversations that tell me why many of our usual supporters are going to vote for a party other than us at the European elections. That’s very frustrating.
“I will vote Conservative, I always have done, but I can understand why many of our supporters are not going to. I will do my best to persuade people to vote Conservative.”
Mr Harper - who was chief whip in David Cameron's government - argued the Brexit Party would not exist if the Tories had delivered on its promise to take the UK out of the EU on 29 March.
He said: “You beat them by keeping your promises and delivering and explaining to people what you’re doing and doing what you promise. If we do that, then that’s how we deal with them.
“The reason why they’ve got some traction is basically we made a clear promise to people and we haven’t delivered it.”
Tipped as a dark horse in the upcoming Tory leadership race, Mr Harper hit out at "self-indulgent" colleagues who are already jockeying for position.
He said: "I do think you have to be careful at Westminster. When there are elections to fight, you do have to be careful about things you do before elections.
“I remember back in the 90s when I was a council candidate and there was nothing more irritating than going out and working really, really hard and then having debate at Westminster kybosh your chances of doing well locally. People didn’t think that through properly in the run-up to the elections last week, and I’m just conscious that there’s a danger of being self-indulgent ahead of this set of elections."
When pressed if he would consider running, he replied: “Well, look, I said we need to come back to that afterwards. We need to look at what is ahead of us. She’s said she’s going to go, but it’s a question for another day.”