I’m not covering UKIP conference. I have a book to finish writing; the lawn needs mowing; I don’t want to run into people with Nigel Farage tattoos; I don’t want to run into Nigel Farage; and in London it’s a nice sunny day.
Even so, catching a glimpse on TV of Katie Hopkins at UKIP conference talking about migrants made me want to commandeer a boat immediately and escape to somewhere civilised on the continent. The tweets of fellow journalists, unlucky enough to have been sent to cover UKIP’s annual get together, add to the sense of ennui. It looks as though the party – post-election – has had it. It is not just the slide in the polls below 10 per cent. A great epoch-defining argument is coming on the EU, between two campaigns chock full of serious people convinced that their opponents are making a grand, historical error. In that context, UKIP looks pathetic, like the golf-club bore trying to tell one of his interminable “funny” stories while the club house burns down.
There is a problem for the proper Leave campaign, though. UKIP in decline will still get considerable coverage during a referendum campaign and for all the efforts of the reasonable individuals in UKIP, Nigel Farage is utterly toxic for the cause of Out. It is simply about brand association. Pragmatic people who might otherwise be tempted by the arguments of Leave, see him and Katie Hopkins and it does not matter what they are saying. It’s Nigel Farage and Katie Hopkins.
I repeat. The Leave campaign is going to have to kidnap Farage – and Hopkins too – and hold them hostage in a pub for the next two years, with a strictly enforced media blackout. It may be the only way.