It is a good trick that Mr Farage plays on behalf of UKIP. He says something controversial such as answering No to the question whether there should be any race discrimination laws. He then gets the startled reaction he knows it will get. He then says this has been misinterpreted. The media say he has 'backtracked'. But the message has hit home as it was intended. He has successfully played the 'race card'. It appears both bumbling and 'telling it like it is' at the same time. It is appealing to those who feel that the truth about immigration isn't being debated. But it is a trick - a deft slight of hand.
It brings Mr Cameron out to condemn it, which Mr Farage is grateful for - after all 'we are not racist' are we. it is just that....' Mr Cameron confirms he and the Tory party doesn't speak for those who have turned to UKIP. Mr Miliband comes out and condemns it giving even more fuel to the fire of publicity. The trick is working wonders. Mr Farage comes out and says it is all a 'storm in a tea cup'. He never said that? Probably not but for those who like storms in tea cups it does wonders. Mr Farage upstages everyone and steals the agenda for another few days. The trick works.
But what on earth can the other party leaders do about it? Now that is the question. They can't win because there is always some nuance that allows Mr Farage to say he 'didn't say it' and it has been 'misconstrued', 'misunderstood', 'taken out of context'. I wasn't talking 'race' I was talking 'nationality'. Ah, that makes all the difference.
Mr Farage is right about one thing and that is that we haven't really been able to have a real debate about immigration because of the association with the race issue. There are however issues to be discussed. This the public knows. This the public feels and ordinary voters out there (where? Over there!) believe it should be 'dealt with'. This is why Mr Cameron said he would 'deal with it'. He set targets that frankly were always unlikely to be attained without some sort of luck or divine intervention. You cannot stop migration in the EU. The free movement of people is one of the key pillars of the EU. Nor would we really like it if it wasn't. There may be more people who now come to the UK from other parts of the EU, but so many UK citizens have gone to other parts of the EU either to retire or to work. It does work both ways. Now our economy is going better than many other parts of the EU and it is inevitable that there will be an attraction to come to work here. Over time the pattern of migration changes. Even Mrs Thatcher supported the free movement of people. She extolled the free market principle; the free movement of capital and labour.
The Tories got themselves in a mess over the issue of immigration. Nigel Farage is perfectly entitled to exploit it. Yes, he has now played the 'race card, but Mr Cameron created the background for him to do so. That is a problem., and the trouble is that once the genie is out of the bottle (sorry for the mixed metaphor), then it is difficult to put back again. Mr Cameron has a habit of doing this - letting genius out of bottles that is. He did the same over Scotland independence. He first called Mr Salmond's bluff on a referendum and then started to play party politics with the result. He continues to do so, challenging Mr Miliband over the prospect of a coalition with the SNP. It is saying to the Scottish people that they won't have a say in who forms the next government. That from the point of view of keeping the union together is a very silly card to play.
I would suggest Mr Cameron stops playing politics with issues. What? Politics? But isn't he a politicians? Isn't that what politicians are supposed to do? Yes, I suppose it is. It is a dangerous game.