At the moment, UKIP seems to be on something of a roll.
The ongoing economic and fiscal train-wreck that is both the Eurozone and, increasingly, the EU itself, becomes more and more apparent and prominent in the nation’s general consciousness with each passing day, raising the visible political profile of UKIP and its spokesmen. Successive displays of the Government’s powerlessness to resist the bizarre judicial-activism decisions of the European Court of Human Rights anger millions when they so blatantly fly in the face of our ancient rights and liberties-based jurisprudence.
Polls show support for UKIP rising to the point where it now regularly comes third, outpolling the irretrievably EU-phile Lib Dems to reach 9% or 10% overall, and even higher in the key age demographics more likely to vote than their younger counterparts. And finally, the very respectable showing to gain third place in the recent Corby by-election, auguring very well indeed for the 2013 local government and 2014 European elections, has put UKIP firmly in the public mind, not only as a mainstream party, but crucially, the only one in tune with the wishes of the majority of the British electorate who want at the very least a substantial repatriation of the powers and competences ceded over the years to the EU, or, if not achievable, an outright withdrawal.
On top of that, over this past weekend, we have had the extraordinary and sinister events in Rotherham, where the Metropolitan Borough Council has removed three small children from the hitherto unblemished foster-care of loving foster-parents for, on the Council’s own admission, being members of UKIP. The revulsion induced appears to be generating a surge in sympathy, support, membership applications, and solid pledges of votes in Rotherham’s own by-election this coming Thursday.
So, in the circumstances, it might be almost irresistibly tempting to try to continue the forward momentum by grabbing UKIP’s first MP from among the swelling ranks of Cameron’s disaffected backbenchers: to be able to enjoy the triumph of publicising UKIP’s first House of Commons representative. And by happy chance, there’s one who just might be ripe for the plucking: yes, folks, Nadine “two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk” Dorries has returned from the Outback.
Tempting – but wrong. Right now, UKIP needs not celebrity, but credibility. And Dorries – sadly, because much that she says is correct – has taken the conscious decision to sacrifice the latter for the former.
Anyone who points to the studiedly metropolitan and in some cases downright snobbery-driven disdain with which the Cameroons and other Tories have treated Dorries and briefed the media about her position on return is right: but significantly, the media, even those parts of it broadly supportive of UKIP and by no means friendly to the Cameroons, have not demurred, welcoming the opportunity to report her in a different context. That’s not going to change: if she joins UKIP, the risk of it becoming tainted by association will be too great, especially now.
She looks likely, for the foreseeable future, to appear more down the right-hand sleb-side of the Daily Mail Online along with its other regular inhabitants of questionable talent, rather than be taken as an even semi-serious political figure. For UKIP this would be toxic: apart from giving the other mainstream parties who fear UKIP’s ascendancy an open goal to smear it as a non-serious party, it risks undoing all the progress recently achieved by hard work over a long period and the respectful hearing it’s now being accorded as its long-voiced predictions about the flaws of the EU and the euro become ever more evidently true to a wider and wider audience.
There are psephological and electoral factors as well. It looks as though the electors in Dorries’ Mid-Bedfordshire constituency aren’t exactly enamoured of her at the moment. As the always astute Mike Smithson of Political Betting.com points out, there’s a possibility that this Lord Ashcroft poll could look like bully-boy tactics and could backfire, but UKIP in its present position would be unwise to take the risk.
The negative reaction isn’t confined to Dorries’ electorate or the Cameroon hierarchy, either: rank and file Tories are joining in. On Sunday, for example, Tracey Crouch made some barbed comments about other Tory MPs predilection for celebrity stunts – gosh, who can she have in mind? – but, unbelievably, Dorries herself has now loaded a revolver, pointed it at her own foot and pulled the trigger by alleging other female MPs are probably jealous of her.
It’s always a pity to watch someone with worthwhile things to say implode: Dorries is right about the EU, the timid pace of deficit reduction, and much else, and her views on abortion are carefully nuanced, even if you don’t agree with them or they don’t get a fair hearing. But UKIP would be well advised to let matters between her, now being quoted as looking forward to Boris Johnson as Tory Leader or Prime Minister, and her party, take their course, keep well away, and take the phone off the hook.
It would be an understandable temptation for UKIP to open the door to Dorries and try to reap the kudos of having the party’s first MP. But such is her reputation and sheer unpredictability at the moment, there may not even be any kudos, just derision, and a wholly illusory triumph rapidly reversed and worse.
Resist the temptation, UKIP. You’d be playing into the Cameroon Tories’ hands. Don’t fall into the trap. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. It will backfire. It isn’t worth it. Don’t do it.