I have attended UKIP fringe meetings before, when we could not fill the front seats with our own members and not even the local press turned up. Even the speakers had to dig in their pockets to pay for the room hire.
It has to be significant, therefore, when UKIP holds a packed fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference and the event is covered by the BBC - which then broadcasts significant chunks of it on the 10 pm news – and when a longish account appears on the wires a few hours later. This cannot just be the Kilroy effect.
The purpose of the meeting was to tell the world that Howard was "deluding" himself if he believed Britain could repatriate some powers from the EU. That was the message delivered by Nigel Farage MEP, who said nothing that Mr Howard had said in his speech on European policy was "believable in any way at all".
That much you would expect Farage to say and – speaking strictly personally - if Farage told me it was raining, I would look out of the window to check, and get a second opinion.
But there was another speaker there, who carried far more authority than Farage, far more weight and conviction. He was Lord Willoughby de Broke, the Conservative peer who broke with his own party in June, writing a letter to recommend voters to go for UKIP in the Euro-elections.
David Willoughby de Broke is no ordinary peer. He is the 21st Baron, heir to an unbroken line which stretches back to 1491, son of a war hero and a Tory through and through. If you cut him in half and split his bones, he would have "Tory" etched through them like a stick of rock. He is the embodiment of the Tory establishment, and, despite that, a thoroughly nice and truly caring man. He even looks like a Tory.
And it was this man, this High Tory, who carried the conviction. What he had hoped to hear from Mr Howard was that he would have wished to repatriate many more powers than just fishing, the Social Chapter and aid, and, if negotiations failed, then he would "consider all our options… including withdrawal", warning that his party was "dead meat" if it did not listen to public concern over greater European integration.
But it is not only the toffs and the "Tory killers" who have their concerns. One of our readers, Christian Suciu, today copied us into an exchange he had had with John Redwood over the self-same issue of renegotiation, with his permission to reproduce the letters. He writes:
Dear Mr Redwood,To give him credit, Redwood - or his office – did reply. The response in his name was as follows:
As a constituent of yours, I have long appreciated the tireless work you have put in on behalf of Wokinghan in Parliament, and on the national stage. Furthermore, I am a longtime Conservative voter. However, the Tory position on the European Union leaves something to be desired, and it is with great reluctance that I and doubtless many others are considering transferring our allegiance to UKIP at the next General Election.
This is because we sense discomfort and opportunism in the manner whereby the party voices its opposition to further EU integration, rather than a deep-seated ideological commitment such as that of Ukip. While I may not be able to expect you and other MPs to openly advocate withdrawal at this point, Ihave a straightforward question, and I expect an honest, clear answer. If the Conservatives win, they have promised to negotiate with our EU colleagues for the repatriation of certain areas of competence, such as the Common Fisheries Policy. Well and good.
However, this would have to be approved by all the other 24 member states. I wish the prospective Government the best of luck in achieving this. But if - just supposing - if this strategy should fail, what next? What is the fail-safe strategy?
Rest assured, this very question is on the minds of many electors, and, if satisfactorily answered, we shall gladly support the Tories. But if the obfuscation continues, we shall have no recourse but to vote UKIP, teach the Conservatives a bitter lesson, and hand Labour a third consecutive victory. Surely none of us want that, but enough is enough, so please do us a favour and be candid before it is too late.
Dear Christian,I like Redwood, admire and even respect him. But I am very sorry that this letter went out in his name. I do not want to say so but I would not be honest if I said anything other that it is nonsense.
Thank you for your email. If we win the election we will rapidly hold a referendum on the constitution. Once we have won this the PM will go to Brussels armed with a double mandate to renegotiate.
They will have to negotiate with us, as the existing Treaties will be replaced by the Constitution which we will not join. Once we have negotiated the best deal we can get the British people can decide whether they like the deal or not, as we made clear in our European election manifesto.
If too many people vote UKIP you will have more federalist MPs elected. No one thinks any UKIP MP can be elected, but it is possible in marginal seats for the UKIP intervention to stop Eurosceptic Conservatives being elected. That is why Paul Sykes has removed his money from UKIP.
"They will have to negotiate with us, as the existing Treaties will be replaced by the Constitution which we will not join," he writes. That cannot be the case. If we do not join the constitution, it is dead in the water. The existing treaties continue in force.
"Once we have negotiated the best deal we can get", he then writes. What does he mean by this? What is "the best deal". And this I do not understand: "…the British people can decide whether they like the deal or not, as we made clear in our European election manifesto." Does he mean another referendum? I saw no mention of that in the manifesto.
But the central point is that, like his boss, he does not address the key point: "if this strategy should fail, what next? What is the fail-safe strategy?". Christian wants an answer to that. We don't mean to be difficult, but so do I and my colleague. All of us do. And, as I have remarked in an earlier Blog, until you answer it properly, your European policy lacks credibility.