The Conservative party may have lost its summer momentum, but at least it isn't worrying about Ukip at the moment. Former spin chief Andy Coulson is doing some worrying in this month's GQ on the Tory party's behalf, warning that the party needs an even stronger message on Europe to counter the threat of Nigel Farage's party. But some of his advice will hearten CCHQ, as spinners and researchers are already ahead of Coulson. The article says:
'UKIP must be taken seriously so as to expose just how empty-headed it really is. Every utterance must be recorded and analysed, every speech given proper attention by some of the bigger, more ambitious young brains in CCHQ, every tweet matched where appropriate by a sensible question applying targeted pressure to UKIP policy.'
The Conservatives decided not to talk about Ukip over the summer. They realised that taking the fight to Labour would involve talking about issues that worry would-be Ukippers in any case: the economy, welfare and immigration. Besides, they don't like talking about Ukip all that much, and there's a lingering feeling that while the 'fruitcakes' line is outdated, it's still worth applying a Tinkerbell strategy to Nigel Farage, hoping that he will fade away if no-one talks about him.
But strategists also told me over the summer that their focus would be on Ukip's inconsistencies, with high-speed rail and tax being two policy areas where the party has markedly changed its tune since its 2010 manifesto (so much so that it now has a disclaimer on its online copy of the document, reminding readers that it doesn't represent current policy).
Tory MPs seem reasonably happy with this strategy. But they'll also soon start clamouring to hear a specific strategy for the European elections. Some want a policy of letting Ukip have a nice time in the European elections while the party focuses on local council seats up for elections, then arguing that a good showing in these seats is a better indication of success in 2015. Either way, as we all know, Tory MPs without a clear attack plan from the leadership can put headless chickens to shame. The attack plan for Labour worked very well this summer (until last week), and kept backbenchers happy: soon the party will need an updated one for Ukip.