by Ray Fleming

T HE Conservatives are expected to lose some 400 seats to Labour in the local elections in the English shires tomorrow. This is mainly because when these seats were last fought for in 2009 Labour was at a very low ebb. If the opinion polls are anywhere near correct there will be a natural Labour rebalancing recovery. Of much greater interest than Conservative losses to Labour, however, is the possibility of a shift to UKIP by disillusioned former Conservative supporters and previously neutral voters. UKIP is unlikely to win many, if any, seats but in how many constituencies will it steal second place from the Conservatives as it did in the Eastleigh by-election? It is difficult to understand Conservative tactics. Even the most cursory examination of UKIP's policy manifesto shows a party proposing impossible tax cuts and unreal increased public spending -- not to mention a lifting of the ban on smoking in pubs. UKIP may be a serious threat but it is not a serious party and the Conservatives should be exposing that fact.

Instead there seems no central theme to its campaign. Kenneth Clarke calls them “clowns” thus adding to David Cameron's earlier dismissal of them as “closet racists and fruitcakes”. Norman Tebbit wisely counselled yesterday against such tactics. They not only insult UKIP but also the electorate by assuming they are likely to be influenced by such a mindless approach.