The disenchanted will use this poll to kick the entire political establishment

Few voters can probably name a single MEP, but everyone feels they know Miss Collins or Mr Kilroy-Silk

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My "Representation of the People Act - Official Poll Card" sits proudly on the mantelpiece in preparation for the ceremony that awaits me at the Holy Apostles Church Hall in Cumberland Street, Pimlico on 10 June. With the current raging battle between the Conservative Party and the UK Independence Party still yet to reach its climax, I can continue to defer my awesome decision as to which is the most effective way to make my voice heard by Tony Blair when he goes to Dublin in a fortnight's time for the final negotiations on the proposed European constitution.

My "Representation of the People Act - Official Poll Card" sits proudly on the mantelpiece in preparation for the ceremony that awaits me at the Holy Apostles Church Hall in Cumberland Street, Pimlico on 10 June. With the current raging battle between the Conservative Party and the UK Independence Party still yet to reach its climax, I can continue to defer my awesome decision as to which is the most effective way to make my voice heard by Tony Blair when he goes to Dublin in a fortnight's time for the final negotiations on the proposed European constitution.

Even on election day itself, I can read the last-minute opinion polls and reconsider the parties' leaflets. In the meantime, I can wait expectantly (although probably in vain) for a party canvasser to knock on my door and engage in some light-hearted banter. I can resolve, on the morning of polling day, to vote for UKIP but still defer my walk to the Church Hall before feeling guilty about breaking a lifetime habit of voting Tory. Alternatively I can decide today, like probably 75 per cent of electors, that since the whole European election is a complete waste of time, I am simply not going to bother at all. But have no doubt, as I gaze at my polling card, I know that eventually I will amble the 400 hundred yards down to the polling station with 10 minutes to spare.

Of course, if I were one of the 14 million voters in the four northern regions of the country where the "postal only" ballots are already taking place - subject to the extent of the alleged chaos in the conduct of the ballot and the exigencies of Royal Mail - I would probably have received my voting papers this morning. Not trusting in the postal service, I would have either cast my vote by the end of this week - or probably even already binned the ballot papers. My voting intention, therefore, might well be different if I were voting this week from what it would be if - as will actually be the case - I were to defer the decision until shortly before the close of poll at the Church Hall. For this reason alone - as voters in the recent Spanish general election could testify - the postal vote should only ever be an adjunct to, never a replacement for, the polling station.

It is the decisions of anarchist Tories like me or - as Tony Travers, the local government expert at the London School of Economics, has described us, "naughty Tories" - who will define the headlines accompanying the results of next week's European and local elections.

In the past, an unpopular government was often punished by a drubbing in mid-term polls with the main opposition party mopping up, to its own advantage, the general feeling of anger against the government. Nowadays that does not happen. The new process of protest began in the European elections in 1989 when the Greens stole the headlines by recording a 15 per cent share of the vote. In recent years, internal Labour Party protest against Tony Blair has resulted in the election of the likes of Ken Livingstone and the infamous Hartlepool monkey to the new directly elected mayoralties that were created four years ago.

But it has been as much the participation of Professor Travers' "naughty Tories" in these recent elections that played a significant part in giving Mr Blair his bloody nose. The "naughty" voter (Labour also suffered at the hands of "naughty" Labour voters in North Tyneside, where they elected a Tory mayor last time) is usually more concerned to make trouble for the incumbent to reward the main establishment alternative.

In London, voters have five separate votes with which to send confusing and contradictory messages to the party leaders. In addition to my two preference votes for the London mayor, I also have a candidate vote for the London Assembly as well as a party vote and, of course, the European Parliament. It is therefore possible for some naughty Tories to vote UKIP for mayor - as their first choice - and then salve their consciences (because this vote will in all probability be eliminated) by voting for the party candidate Steve Norris as their second preference.

This, I suspect, is what a number of the "Tories for Ken", who voted Livingstone in 2000 but who cannot now bring themselves to vote Labour, might do. Yours truly is minded, today, to do this - although much can change before next Thursday. Guilt could then make us still vote Tory in the European ballot.

So it is not a wish to harm Michael Howard that motivates electors such as me to contemplate UKIP. It is simply the wish to cause embarrassment to the system as a whole by having someone like Robert Kilroy-Silk in the European Parliament that makes their candidates so attractive.

Add in the extra ingredient of Joan Collins, taking time off from Hollywood, and the Tory attack about "cranks and gadflies" looks more than a little mean and desperate. Few voters can probably name a single Tory, Labour or Lib Dem MEP, but everyone feels they know - or would like to know - Miss Collins or Mr Kilroy-Silk.

If UKIP should turn out to be the star of next week's show then there is likely to be a real impact, seven days later, on Tony Blair's willingness or otherwise to sign up to the European constitution as it is currently drafted. It would be arrogance of the most extraordinary order if, after a significant proportion of the population had voted for a party committed to withdrawal from Europe, Mr Blair did not subtly learn some lessons from the poll.

This is a serious reason why some naughty Tories might want to use the impact of their votes as a way of piling on the pressure at the negotiations in Dublin in a fortnight's time. The trouble is that, while naughty Tories will think that they are embarrassing Mr Blair, the commentators will interpret their votes as a slap in the face for Mr Howard.

It is therefore understandable that the Tories should feel almost cheated by the behaviour of UKIP in raining on their parade. Earlier in the year, the Tory plan was to base their election campaign on a demand for a referendum on the constitution. Now that Mr Blair has been forced to concede on this issue, the Tory case has temporarily lost momentum.

In the longer term, it will have done Mr Howard no harm to have donned the mantle of the centrist on Europe. Yesterday he painted the Labour and Liberal Democrats as extremist Europhiles and UKIP as extremist Europhobes, with himself as the middle-of-the-road man of sweet reason. The alternative strategy was to seek to outbid UKIP in his Eurosceptic credentials.

But that would have reopened the recently healed split with Tory Europhiles such as Ken Clarke.

Unfortunately, majestic, reasonable and moderate appeals to the centre ground, essential in a general election, do not always make much of an impact in a mid-term poll.

It is precisely the lurid charms from the dotty, the mavericks and the irresponsible that tickle the fancy of the disenchanted and the grumpy who want to kick, not so much a particular party, as the whole of the political establishment. And if their fancy is not tickled, then they simply stay at home.

mrbrown@pimlico.freeserve.co.uk

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