Peter Walker: The consequences of the defenestration of Godfrey Bloom
Peter Walker retired as Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police in 2003. He now owns SuperSkills, a Construction Training Business in Thirsk, and is on the Westminster candidates' list. Follow Peter on Twitter.
Hands up everybody who has at any time, said something stupid at work. Now hands up those who didn't give an accurate answer to the first question. OK - that's everybody then. That's the issue regarding the Godfrey Bloom debacle at UKIP's conference. Ann Treneman was there and provides a word by word report of the unfolding PR disaster in The Times (£) today.
Like any boss, Nigel Farage blew his top - on television, he looked as though steam was about to come from his ears. His plan was that this year's UKIP conference would demonstrate it was a grown up party - not just ready to fight the European Elections, but gain momentum for the longer haul to May 2015. Bloom had scuppered UKIP's plans spectacularly.
Many would say that he has been heading in this direction for some time. This was not his first gaffe. He has done it before, and the response from his party hasn't made him change. In fact, the "happy chappie, booze n' fags" UKIP image has, it could be argued, played to a considerable section of the electorate. People like entertainment; UKIP has been providing it.
A more composed Farage took to the prime slot on "Today" this morning and two key issues emerged. After a series of increasingly direct questions from John Humphrys, he ruled out any agreements with the Conservatives concerning the 2015 General Election. Additionally, he made it clear that UKIP cannot afford to have people behaving the way that Bloom did if they want to be taken seriously.
The former puts us on notice that campaigns in every seat will have to recognise, analyse and deal with a threat to our vote from UKIP. I live in one of the safest seats in the country, yet meet people on the doorstep who will support UKIP, having moved their allegiance from us. In my local ward (usually rock solid Conservative), an "unknown" UKIP candidate, who didn't give any impression of actively campaigning, got 25 per cent of the vote.
This means our job in the run up to 2015 gets tougher. Analysing the UKIP threat ward by ward. Targeting those that have UKIP voters, so our approach to the renegotiation about and referendum on our place in Europe gets across to voters. Exposing UKIP's frailties about taxation and spending because of their commitments to spend more, yet tax less. I'm not sure it's enough to say "Vote UKIP, get Labour" because, whilst that is true, Farage is already deflecting it.
Personal contact. Give people a "Good Listening To". Understand why their attitudes have shifted. Put our case logically. Because the second - arguably more interesting - issue that came from this morning's interview may prove significant.
UKIP have started to rein in their "mavericks". Their people can no longer say what they like and get away with it. With that will go their attractiveness to many voters. Godfrey Bloom cut a lonely figure as he was filmed leaving the UKIP conference having been suspended from the party whip. But with him went that party's advantage - in being listened to without challenge. From now on, they will have to make their arguments stick in a manner the rest of the parties have always had to - less of the rhetoric and with numbers that add up. Bring it on!