‘Closet racists’, ‘gadflies’, ‘fruitcakes’, and on the ‘periphery of politics’… few politicians have had time for Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party since it burst on to the political scene some 18years ago.
Michael Howard damned it, John Major dismissed it and now David Cameron has ignored it.
But to write the eurosceptics off will be a mistake that will cost the unpopular leader support of the rank and file.
After a policy tuck and image overhaul the modern day Conservative Party is unrecognisable from its Thatcherite predecessor. A party which once had a strong message now struggles for definition, a shadow of its former self.
The rebranding and the relocation to the centre ground have left the party merely a bunch of imitators, a poor Tony Blair tribute band.
A long time ago backbenchers could make the feelings of their constituents felt by voting against the leadership in the Commons. Now, should MPs dare to have independent thought, they are outcast, fearful of repercussions.
Following the departure of the broadly unrepentant Liam Fox, there aren’t many high profile Conservatives on the Right of the party, certainly none to challenge Cameron’s authority. The Tory Right simply isn’t represented. Who is there to speak up for Tories like myself?
Despite claiming just a few weeks ago that the public wasn’t interested in an innie or outie debate on Europe, our prime minister has now moved this momentous chapter forward to Monday so he can attend.
For someone who was so convinced the public simply didn’t care enough, he is going out of his way to ensure he is there. Now Cameron and Hague can force Tory MPs to vote against the motion.
Back in 2006, Cameron was so keen on a referendum. But fast-forward five years and the 'r' word is coming back to bite him on his 3 Rs.
For once the parties are in political alignment. The leaders all think, believe and now even vote the same way. With the exception of staunch Tories, a handful of Labour (including my local MP, Kate Hoey – all is forgiven!) and Democratic Unionists, the rest will head to the polls, cowering.
It is only a matter of time before top true blues fly the nest to settle in with their UKIP counterparts. Ex-Treasurer Lord Hesketh was the first high profile party swapper, but who will be next?
Cameron is battling with the Richard Dunne for the record of own-goals in one season at the top. But this latest balls-up is one that could cost him his career.
UKIP are no longer a party that can be ignored. Outside the world of politics, people on the streets are growing fearful of our complicated relationship with Europe and its catastrophic currency.
It’s more than just bendy bananas. Immigration, foreign labour, the dreaded ECHR act and trade are all big factors that are heavily linked to our distrust. These are genuine grievances for some people and MPs have a duty to listen – but they have wrongly dismissed these as racist rants.
For disgruntled Tories, unimpressed Liberals and livid Labour voters, UKIP is fast becoming a party that understands. The voting share of UKIP will continue to increase at a rapid rate, particularly if a three-line whip is imposed. People are angry.
What choice do voters have at the next election? More of the same? Should they abstain or take a risk, like so many have with businesses in the recession?
The Conservative way on Europe isn’t working, and the public has nothing to lose by pledging their support for the only party that takes this debate seriously.
This vote may become a definitive point in British politics. Conservative voters want to see the men and women they elected taking action. If that doesn’t happen, prepare for a mass exodus for pastures – and parties – new.