In the wake of UKIP’s Euro-election triumph, I wrote a long analytical piece on the relationship between that party and the Conservatives, entitled "They still don’t get it".
My theme then was that UKIP was not so much anti-EU as anti-Conservative, the relationship being much the same as exists – even to this day - between the Yorkshire miners and Thatcher on the one hand, and Nottinghamshire miners on the other. While the Yorkshire miners hate Thatcher, they reserve their real detestation for their brother miners in Nottingham, as the "scabs" who broke the strike.
Thus, it was highly significant to hear the one pm BBC Radio 4 news which reported UKIP leaders at their conference today savaged all the main parties but "most venom was reserved for the Conservative Party". And, in response to suggestions that there should be an electoral deal with the Tories – where seats held by Conservative MPs should not be contested - Robert Kilroy-Silk launched into a tirade, proclaiming that "the Conservative Party is dying… why would you want to give to the kiss of life… what we want to do is kill it… and UKIP must replace it".
In this, Kilroy expresses the soul of UKIP. The Tories are the class traitors – the political equivalent of the Nottinghamshire miners – and it will not rest until it has seen their destruction.
That much I had occasion to discuss at my seminar yesterday, when I delivered my paper arguing that the EU was inherently corrupt, built on a tissue of lies. The only real opposition to this thesis came from a senior academic, a political scientist and advisor to the Conservative Party. His view was, if we continually attack the EU and the Conservative stance on "Europe", all we will do is ensure that the Conservatives never get re-elected. For the sake of the party and the survival of the centre-right movement in Britain, we must tone down our attacks, his preferred option being that we should push for a "reform" agenda in the EU.
In response to this, one can only observe, once again, that, "They still don’t get it". As long as both main parties are committed to handing more and more powers over to the EU, and the bulk of UK law is made in Brussels, it does not make one whit of difference which party is elected. The power has drained away to Brussels and the UKIPites would rather rob the Conservatives of the trappings of power than see them enjoy the fruits of their treachery – even if it means Labour remaining in power.
In that context, the Howard interview published in today’s Daily Telegraph does little more than demonstrate how little Howard understands the forces ranged against him.
Dragged kicking and screaming into a more Eurosceptic position in the wake of the Hartlepool disaster, he is now offering an early referendum on the constitution – in the autumn of 2005, during the UK presidency of the EU - and a commitment to bringing powers back from Brussels, although only in terms of seeking to reinstate Britain's opt-out from the social chapter; renegotiating the Common Fisheries Policy; and taking back control over international aid.
But, as always, he falls at the first fence. Asked what would happen if other EU members said "no", says the Telegraph, "Mr Howard refused to be drawn". "I don't go into negotiations expecting to fail," he said.
That, of course, is not enough – not anything like enough. Bringing forward the constitutional referendum is only window dressing and the renegotiation agenda is too limited. Furthermore, without a commitment to withdraw from the EU if the renegotiations fail, Howard is nowhere. This is not going to attract the UKIP vote, despite Howard’s fond hopes expressed in the front page story of the Telegraph.
So, as triumphal UKIPites gather today for their conference today in Bristol, perhaps it is Nicholas Soames, the Conservative defence spokesman, who has the measure of the moment. Responding to Hartlepool, he said: "It's a f****** awful result". However, he then added: "It's a disastrous result but it's only a by-election." Yes Mr Soames. And the Euro-elections were only Euro-elections. What are you going to say after the general election?
I suspect I am going to be saying, "They still don’t get it".