David Cameron should "stand up and fight" Ukip rather than trying to imitate them, Lord Deben has told Politics.co.uk, as a poll shows Nigel Farage's party is in the lead among men.
Today's data from Survation for the Daily Mirror makes for terrible reading for David Cameron. It puts Ukip on 29%, narrowly ahead of Labour on 27% and the Conservatives on 26%, among male voters.
Deben - or John Gummer, as most people know him - is not happy.
As Tory MPs are whipped towards campaigning in Rochester and Strood, where the expectation is they will lose to Ukip's defector Mark Reckless on November 20th, he is in critical mood.
People vote for Ukip, he suggests, "because of their appalling immigration policies and their opposition to the European Union".
"It's always easy to play on the worst instincts of anyone," he says, after giving a speech in the City of London to a group of frustrated Irish renewable energy types. "And that's why Nigel Farage is in a long history of unpleasant people who, instead of trying to raise people's sights, just try and lower people down to the lowest common denominator.
"At its most extreme, we know where that leads us. Once you start hating other people, you move to a position where you become exclusive about yourself and racist about other people."
Cameron's response to the threat posed by Nigel Farage's party has been to try and out-Ukip Ukip, proposing significant curbs to internal EU migration. His plan to deny unskilled new arrivals national insurance numbers has already been firmly rejected by German chancellor Angela Merkel, who's correctly identified the prime minister's ideas as utterly incompatible with the EU's fundamental principle of freedom of movement.
And now, as today's poll shows, it is clear the strategy is not working. The Conservatives' national support has slipped four per cent to just 27%. Labour are on 31% and Ukip down one on 24%, with the Liberal Democrats up two to nine per cent.
YouGov's polling for the Sun, it should be noted, puts Labour in the lead on 33%, with the Conservatives on 32% and Ukip on 15%.
But Survation's numbers puts the Tories a long way from being able to govern even as a minority. They suggest that by heading to the right, the Tories are haemorrhaging votes in the centre-ground fast.
Pie chart from D Mirror of their new Survation poll with LAB 4% ahead & UKIP just 3% behind CON pic.twitter.com/LOCZp3ISpt— Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) November 7, 2014
Astonishing Survation poll has UKIP just 3% behind Tories - Lab 31%, Con 27%, UKIP 24%. Could UKIP overtake Tories by May? #PurpleRevolution— Michael Heaver (@Michael_Heaver) November 7, 2014
Fascinating that the @Survation poll has UKIP on 24% & the Tories on 27% tonight, but the papers tell us that Labour is the party in crisis.— Stewart Wood (@StewartWood) November 6, 2014
Deben is clear that Cameron is not going about it in the right way. "The fact is you have to face Ukip and you have to fight them on the things that really matter to people, not by doing those things as well," he says.
"You have to say we benefited hugely from the free market of labour of the European Union. We would not be able to run our economy were it not for those who are able to come here. And many people, 1.4 million people in Britain who are in the rest of the European Union, wouldn't have a job.
"So you have to fight them on it and you have to stand up to them."
John Gummer in 1997
This has never been a man to mince his words. Or his food: he is most famous for feeding his four-year-old daughter a beef burger at the height of the BSE scare. That seems like a long time ago. Yet it's even longer since the last time the Conservative party won an overall majority in a general election.
Ukip look like being a major factor in prolonging the dry spell next year. "I think the media gives them far too much publicity," he says. Deben also turns his fire on the BBC and other broadcasters organising next year's televised debates. The decision to include Ukip and exclude the Green party is, he says, "absolutely unacceptable". It sounds like the Greens have found an ally, but Deben is quick to make clear he doesn't agree with them "at all".
For an avowed environmentalist, that is eyebrow-raising. "An awful lot of stuff they've put forward is just not true," he insists. "I think that they have an inheritance from a Marxist past which doesn't fit. But I think they ought to have their say.
"They're ahead of the Lib Dems in the polls. On what basis, having had a member of parliament elected at a general election, should they not have a voice? Whereas Ukip, which has never had an MP elected at a general election, should?" The BBC is consulting on the Green question and could well change its mind: if it sticks with its original plan it will be defying over 250,000 people who have signed a petition condemning Green leader Natalie Bennett's absence.
Today's poll from YouGov puts the Liberal Democrats on eight per cent and the Greens on five per cent. Deben, who as chair of the government-advising committee on climate change focuses his work on saving the planet, knows that Ukip's energy spokesperson Roger Helmer is a barely-disguised climate denier. But he accepts that is not the real issue at stake.
"People don't vote for them because of their climate change policy," he says. "They vote for them because of their appalling immigration policies.
"I don't see them in the same category as I do the Liberal Democrats, the Tory party, the Greens, if you like. No decent person could or should vote for Ukip."