GOVERNMENT minister Eric Pickles has rubbished Ukip's claims 150 Tory activists have pledged their support to defector Douglas Carswell.

Mr Pickles, Communities and Local Government Secretary, visited party activists at the Clacton Conservative Association office yesterday ahead of the October 9 by-election.

The poll has been trigged by former Tory Mr Carswell's switch to Ukip and subsequent resignation as the Clacton MP.

Sources at Ukip claim about 150 local Tories have followed Mr Carswell.

But Mr Pickles said: “Predictably these claims from Ukip are not backed up by any evidence.

“In truth our membership has actually increased since Mr Carswell's defection and another councillor has joined the Conservative group in the town hall.

“I visited Clacton Conservative Association and met with members who will be running a strong local campaign in the upcoming by-election.

“They recognise what Mr Carswell himself was saying - the only way to make progress on Europe or issues like welfare or immigration is by making sure that David Cameron is returned as Prime Minister in 2015.”

The Conservative Party’s candidate for the by-election will be selected at an ‘open primary’ by all voters - not just Tory members - on Thursday.