There is, though, a more fundamental point about UKIP that the Tories disregard at their peril. It is no longer a single-issue party, campaigning for withdrawal from Europe. It also believes in low taxes, a smaller state, immigration controls, grammar schools and an English parliament. As such, it is very attractive to conservative-minded people. Worse for Mr Cameron, its new leader, Nigel Farage, is highly articulate, plain-spoken, experienced (he has been an MEP for eight years), attracting much media attention and highly politically motivated. As they do with the editor of the Mail, the Tories can shrug UKIP off, but they would be making another big mistake.
In a supremely smug article on this subject last Friday, the weekly bible of the bien-pensant class, the Economist, warned Mr Cameron about UKIP, saying that "to bend even slightly in its direction, however, would guarantee not only defeat, but ridicule". Really? I would concede that for the Tories to announce withdrawal from the EU would be a little breathtaking. But what about the rest that UKIP stands for? Would a Tory shift towards grammar schools, lower taxes, a smaller state, controlled immigration and democratic equality for England really have the party's opponents howling with hysterical laughter, and the voters stampeding for Gordon Brown? Somehow, I doubt it.
The BBC wouldn't like it, and neither would Miss Toynbee, nor the Economist (whose long and unembarrassed devotion to the European Exchange Rate Mechanism I still, after all these years, recall with great fondness). But will these people really swing the next election? If Francis, Ollie and Steve tell Dave they will when they next indoctrinate him, he would be well advised to ask them, quite firmly, whether they might perhaps be better employed elsewhere.
The knock-on effects of the dispute could undermine the position of British Conservatives in the European parliament. If the CDU lost foreign affairs, it could displace Giles Chichester, a British Conservative, from the industry committee - seen by both the government and opposition in London as a vital job in curbing Brussels' regulatory zeal. Arlene MacCarthy, a British Labour MEP, is likely to retain the internal market committee.
We keep being told that the tide of opinion in Europe is coming our way. It doesn't look that way in terms of the new EPP leadership. The MEPs within the European Peoples' Party - of which the Tories are (controversially) still members - has elected a French farmer, Joseph Daul, to succeed the retiring Hans-Gert Poettering. Daul is a well-known protectionist who has been supportive of President Chirac's assertive attempts to protect French industry. When he was Chairman of France's National Association of Beef Farmers he campaigned for the continuation of the ban on British beef long after the EU had called for it to be lifted. He is a great defender of the Common Agricultural Policy - saying that he believes it has been crucial to the beauty of Europe's countryside. Unlike Poettering he is not an Atlanticist and is one of only a handful of MEPs who doesn't speak English. As an MEP close to Strasbourg he defends the wasteful existence of two homes for the European Parliament. It almost goes without saying that he is also a supporter of the euro and the rejected EU Constitution.
Editor's conclusion: "Tory MEPs cannot leave the EPP fast enough!"
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