I have actually very little time for UKIP. Since 1997 its principal objective seems to have been the prevention of Conservative victory in parliamentary and European elections. Its interventions have helped Labour and the Liberal Democrats by splitting off enough Conservative votes to enable candidates from those two parties - often, in fact usually, far more enthusiastic about the EU and all its works than the defeated Tory candidate - to be elected on a minority vote. That is how Edward Davey came to be our MP in Kingston & Surbiton by 56 votes in 1997. In 2004 they bit deeply into our vote in the European election and lost us, in London, an excellent MEP in the person of Richard Balfe. Last May they almost certainly did contribute to the loss of or failure to gain about 27 seats in Parliament. None of this has advanced by one inch the stated UKIP claim of bringing about the separation of the UK from the EU. UKIP actually helps the victory of the Euro-enthusiast left and thereby achieves precisely the opposite of its stated aim. I cannot believe that its leaders are unaware of this.
So do I agree with David Cameron's remarks about 'fruitcakes' or Michael Howard's earlier comments about 'political gadflies'?
No. Both were ill-judged and did UKIP more good than harm, partly by gratuitously boosting their importance at a time when they were hardly even registering on the national political consciousness. Anyone who has studied the political history of contemporary Britain must be aware that such name-calling can severely backfire on the people who do it. Who was the Labour minister in Attlee's post-war government who rashly referred to the Tories as 'vermin' - only to see a number of Tory MPs proudly sporting badges with 'VERMIN' written on them
Whatever one might think of the leaders, the ordinary folk who vote for their candidates do so for the most part from a sincerely held conviction that the EU lies at the heart of much that distresses them about contemporary Britain, such as our seeming impotence in the face of criminality and the erosion of our civil liberties, the collapse of discipline in schools and families and all that is involved in political correctness. These are not fruitcakes or gadflies. They are decent people who have traditionally looked to the Conservative Party as their natural home.
If we're going to win power, we want them back - and we must realise that there is no contradiction between getting them back and earning the support of the 'middle ground' in British politics. Anyone who thinks there is is just plain wrong.