Matthew Parris wrote movingly in today's Times about how his eastern European cleaner would have felt had she read the UKIP leaflet lying on his doormat. His article exhorted David Cameron and the Conservative Party to FIGHT UKIP, FIGHT THEIR LIES. FIGHT THEM NOW.
I couldn't agree more.
Up to three or four years ago I had empathy with UKIP. I would never have voted for them, but I understood why people did. I have never liked Nigel Farage's world of black and white certainties, but he spoke for millions whose concerns about the EU were not being addressed by the mainstream parties.
My empathy with the "better off out" brigade comes from within; I am fundamentally one of them. I have been opposed to the EU since before it was fashionable or trendy, though I don't allow the issue to define me. Too many election defeats based on a platform of Europhobia have left me not only bruised but also realistic about the issue's resonance beyond the hard core. My last post of Europe, written nearly a year ago at the time of James Wharton's Referendum Bill sums up my position nicely : HERE
My opposition to the EU however is not an emotional response based on patriotism or fear of the unknown. I oppose it because I simply believe it is doomed to fail. The history of the 20th century is littered with the economic (and too often human) scars of mankind's attempts to control the free markets; Bretton Woods, the Gold Standard, the ERM and of course EMU. Each failed and left behind a legacy of debt, misery, depression, and even bloodshed and conflict. Yet we make the same mistakes again.
And this is the root of my opposition to UKIP.
I believe millions of people oppose the EU and EMU not because of the emotional arguments - but for economic and social reasons. But UKIPs populism is not only hijacking the issue, but by linking them to the faux outrage of the Daily Mail leader columns, they are making it increasingly difficult to defend, define and spread the very rational arguments for leaving which will be vital in order to win in any future referendum.
Just because I oppose European Union it doesn't mean I fear foreigners. I don't - in fact the opposite is true. As a free market Libertarian I welcome the free movement of people and I love living in a modern, progressive multi-faith and multi-cultural society.
I don't for one moment believe that UKIP supporters are all racists or hompohobes. But what is certain, the language they use (and I see no evidence of them trying to moderate it) is designed to appeal to very demographic they claim to eschew. The type of voter who affects a cloak of moderation with "some of my best friends are gay" and "I am not a racist but" before launching into a blistering attack on the latest threat *queers *coloureds *Romanians *gypsies *single parents (*delete as appropriate) pose to society.
And that is why I dislike UKIP; with their shrill narrative of "take back control of our country" they are stigmatising tens of millions of people who don't fit into their self defined world view. And in doing so they are poisoning the well for moderate Eurscepticism.
And that is why Matthew Paris is right. We must fight them. Fight their lies. Fight them now.
UKIP's moons are in alignment. The EU elections are co-terminus with the local elections at a time when they are at their highest in the polls and trust in politics remains weak. The mood music for UKIP has never been better. Yet even now, with all these factors in their favour, they are still likely to poll 30% of the votes at a 35% turnout.
In other words, at their strongest, nearly 90% of British voters don't want anything to do with them.
Those in my party who believe we should adopt the UKIP narrative are wrong. We won't win the middle ground (the 90% who will have no truck with UKIP) with dog whistle gestures.
We are fundamentally a decent, moderate, honourable and generous nation. The next generation are more multicultural, socially liberal and laissez faire than their grandparents would think possible. A few weeks ago I wrote about our three intern applicants who all argued furiously with Tom Tugendhat when he played 'devil's advocate' and pretended he was against equal marriage; they were all quite simply baffled and incredulous that anyone should hold such a view.
The biggest mistake the Conservative Party could possible make is to allow ourselves to be defined by UKIPs narrative of anger, intolerance and fear.