People who vote Ukip at the European elections are like men on their stag dos, indulging in a last moment of freedom to do something stupid before settling down and behaving responsibly – that’s according to the man hired as the Government’s top public relations man, Craig Oliver.
The Downing Street director of communications can feel miffed that his derogatory private remarks have been leaked to i. A couple of years ago political reporters would have laughed off Mr Oliver’s wisecrack as an insult to naked men handcuffed to lampposts. (I am braced for my own stag do this weekend – you can check my byline photograph next week to see whether or not I still have eyebrows.)
Some people who vote Ukip now will change their support at the general election next May. But Ukip’s polling figures mean that the party and its supporters cannot be dismissed in such crass and complacent terms – remarks that will only drive Ukip voters further from the reach of David Cameron. While Nigel Farage shouldn’t be overestimated, stopping him will take more than establishment scorn.
“Activity will occur in forthcoming weeks.” Those six words about the investigation into Madeleine McCann – sent last night in a letter to editors from Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley – will spark frenzied coverage. Digging will begin near the Praia da Luz resort where she went missing during a family holiday seven years ago, it is reported.
But the public won’t be updated on progress. I don’t mean the sort of detail that might prejudice an investigation, but the customary UK police practice of briefing the media, which, in Mr Rowley’s words, “ensures that the activity of reporters and the coverage assists rather than damages the investigation”. His Portuguese counterpart has banned any such information, threatening that “if reporters cause any disruption...activity will cease until that problem dissipates”.
Detectives understandably dislike working under media spotlights, but this ban, from a force criticised for its investigation last time, looks like avoiding scrutiny. There is little that we or Mr Rowley can do, other than focus on the bigger picture: establishing what happened to the three-year-old girl who went missing in the night.