Richard North, 24/05/2004  

With a possibly rogue poll putting UKIP into third place ahead of the Lib-Dems in the Euro-election stakes, it is always nice to see someone else catch up.

This is all the more pleasing when it is the Daily Telegraph leader, with its clarion call to the Conservative Party. "The only way to choke off the UKIP advance", it intones, "is for one of the mainstream parties – which in effect means the Conservatives – to offer a plausible vision of a self-governing Britain".

That is precisely the line taken by this Blog, in several posts dealing with the priorities of the "no" campaign. In fact, long before this Blog started, we have argued that until and unless the Eurosceptic movement come up with that vision, the British public – however much they may dislike or distrust the EU, will always go for the status quo, for fear that the alternatives may be worse.

What applies to the Eurosceptic movement though also applies to the Conservatives – in spades. To make an electoral breakthrough in the general election, it must recover the million or so votes that in 1997 went to either the Referendum Party or UKIP and, in 2001 largely stayed at home.

Some of those voters may come out to play in the Euro-elections, and are happy to give the Conservatives a "kicking" by casting their vote for UKIP. But no one really believes that any such action is a vote of confidence for UKIP and its alternative policies – not least because it does not have the capability of creating credible alternatives.

The Telegraph, somewhat optimistically, argues that the Conservatives still have time – just – to offer the plausible vision before 10 June, but that is probably asking too much. Developing alternatives is a difficult and time-consuming business, more so in a polyglot party where Howard has to carry all wings of the party with him if he is to present the British public with a semblance of unity.

Furthermore, the actual resources devoted to working on alternatives, within the framework of the Party, are minuscule. To expect anything quickly would be entirely unrealistic.

If the voters do give Howard a "kicking" at the Euros, therefore, the best outcome would be that his Party will take the right message and devote some real resources to fulfilling the Telegraph’s injunction – offering a plausible vision of a self-governing Britain.

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