Who are the two Conservative MPs set to defect to Ukip after the Rochester and Strood by-election?

 
Guy Bentley
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Ukip are set to claim its second MP (Source: Getty)

Two Conservative MPs are set to jump ship if Ukip win today's by-election in Rochester and Strood, according to Mark Reckless.

He said:

During the campaign, I have spoken with two Conservative MPs about the possibility of their moving over, and I think they will want to see what the result is before making any decisions.

Reckless claimed he had discussions on the phone with one and met the other in an undisclosed location outside of Rochester and Strood.

Reckless made the claim last night but failed to give the names of any possible Tory defectors. The prospect of more Conservative MPs crossing the floor to Nigel Farage's eurosceptic party will set alarm bells ringing in Downing Street, with the Tory machine seemingly unable halt the rise of Ukip.

So with voters in Rochester and Strood heading to the polls who are the Conservative MPs most likely to be tempted to the "people's army"?

The prime suspect is serial rebel Philip Hollobone. The MP for Kettering is a staunch eurosceptic and supporter of the Better Off Out campaign and was one of four MPs to support the Alternative Queen's Speech, which included banning the burqa and reintroduction of the death penalty.

Outspoken backbencher is another favourite at 3/1. Speaking on Newsnight about a possible defection Baron failed to rule it out and said "never say never".

Next up is Henry Smith (4/1 with Ladbrokes), who has been a consistent supporter of a referendum on Britain's EU membership. However, he has insisted he will not abandon the Conservatives. He's said in the past:

We are the only party capable of forming a majority government and the only party offering an in-out EU referendum (if they do win a majority at the next general election).

Why another former Conservative MP would threaten that by splitting the vote is absolutely bizarre.

Mark Pritchard sparked speculation he might join Ukip after being pictured smiling with Nigel Farage.

He has since insisted he reamains loyal to the Conservative party.

Peter Bone, formerly tipped as the fifth most likely to defect, is now third at 8/1. He told the Daily Mail there was no chance of him switching parties. "I have been a member of the Conservative party since I was 15. I believe we should have a pact with Ukip [but] I have never had any discussions with anyone in Ukip about defecting", he said.

Curiously though, Bone will speak at the Cambridge Union tonight in favour of the motion "this House believes Ukip has been good for British politics".

Reckless triggered the by-election after defecting at Ukip's conference in Doncaster. The Tories thought they were in with a decent chance of winning the constituency, with the party's chairman Grant Shapps telling the Tory party conference they would fight to win.

This now looks like a highly unlikely proposition with a series of polls putting Ukip well ahead of the Tories with Labour set to come a poor third. If Reckless wins on Thursday he will join Ukip colleague Douglas Carswell in the House of Commons. Carswell won the Clacton by-election with a whoppin 60 per cent of the vote leaving Conservative Giles Watling on just 24.6 per cent.

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