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25 May 2014

What Doesn't Kill Ukip Only Makes Them Stronger

  First, they ignore  working and middle-class Brits, then they laugh and call you ‘swivel-eyed loons, and clowns', then they fight you by claiming that you're nothing more than xenophobic racists, then you win. 

- (Paraphrasing) Mahatma Gandhi

By Benedict Brogan

It's the last day of campaigning before voting tomorrow. The main media event will be another joint appearance by David Cameron and Boris Johnson, who are due on a walkabout in Newark about now, before going on to a gig in Enfield. We might consider at another time the growing importance of the Dave and Boris show to the Conservatives, and what that tells us about any agreements reached for his return to Westminster. But there are more pressing matters before us to ponder, namely the prospects for Ukip. The party has been pounded in recent days. The main parties, helped by the media, have tried their best to paint Ukip as a collection of unsavoury racists unfit to govern. Yesterday's Croydon carnival fiasco was its nadir.

Yesterday though I wondered whether this might not provoke sympathy among voters and prompt greater support for an underdog at bay. And so it proves, if this morning's polls are anything to go by. They show Ukip on course to come top tomorrow. YouGov in the Sun has the parties as follows among those certain to vote: C21 L25 LD11 Ukip30 Green7. A Survation poll in the Mirror is similar: C23 L27 LD9 Ukip32 Other9. To judge by my inbox and Twitter feed, there is an ocean of anger out there among voters who think Ukip has been unfairly targeted. It's worse than that. The Guardian has on its front "Labour and Tory ratings suffer as Farage attacks backfire", and carries a useful piece of analysis from Patrick Wintour on how Nigel Farage has skated his way through "probably the most intensive scrutiny any unelected British politician has faced in decades". According to this view, Mr Farage realises the attacks have backfired. "It is a finding that Labour and Tory polling has also picked up," Patrick reports.

On that basis, George Osborne's last minute intervention – "Osborne: Ukip is a threat to economy" is the Telegraph splash – is not only too late but will only make things worse. It may be that the Tories have worked that out, which is why Mr Cameron is appealing to angry Tories heading for Ukip, urging them to come back to the fold in his Sun cabbie interview. Again, probably too late, not least as most Ukip voters all never forgive him his "cranks, loonies, fruitcakes" remarks. The Mail leader makes the point that if only the Tories and Ukip could team up, they would have 43pc of the vote between them and guarantee a conservative majority: the Tories can win if they stop demonising Ukip is its conclusion.

CCHQ, and Labour too, will ponder the lessons of this campaign as they ponder how to anticipate and respond to Ukip for the general election. It must remain likely that, as before, Ukip support will fall back as voters concentrate on who should run the country after the general election. But the party leaders will have to consider a nagging doubt: by hitting Ukip hard and submitting it to the scrutiny it should by rights receive, have they exposed its weaknesses or made it stronger? Will voters agree that Ukip is indeed a ramshackle, single-issue fringe party? Or will they invest in it all their frustration and anger at a political system they think is detached from reality? Attacking Ukip appears to have made it stronger, like some kind of superhero who absorbs the energies of his attackers. Imagine if it doesn't stop here. There is lots to be learned and pondered from this most bizarre campaign.

Related Reading:

10 Tens Other Politicians Should Refrain From Saying In The Aftermath of Farage & Ukip's Triumphant

Older, Related Reading:

Maggie Did More For The Workers Than Her Leftie Critics Ever Did

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