A leader in The Daily Telegraph admits that it does not know if yesterday’s attack on UKIP from the Tory leader was a "spur-of-the-moment remark or part of a considered strategy". Either way, it writes, "it was a mistake". Today’s Sun describes it as a "rare show of temper".
UKIP has certainly won lots of coverage from the dispute and is threatening to sue Mr Cameron if he does not apologise. UKIP claims that Conservative members resent David Cameron’s attack. A UKIP press release referred to the debate that took place on this site yesterday. The Telegraph does the same: "There appeared to be mixed reactions last night on the ConservativeHome.com website, with one applauding Mr Cameron for "showing some edge"." ConservativeHome knows of at least one constituency office which received a constant stream of phone calls from outraged Tory members. Conservatives have long been subject to incendiary charges of racism from left-of-centre parties. Offended by those accusations themselves, Conservatives should be cautious about accusing others of such a serious vice.
The Telegraph notes that the Conservative party has lost many voters to UKIP in recent years because such voters "feel the party has been insufficiently true" to the "self-government of Britain". These voters "deserve solicitation, not scorn," the newspaper concludes.
David Cameron refuses to apologise, however. Local government spokesman Eric Pickles, who has been charged with defending the remarks, has certainly been unapologetic. The Guardian quotes him
as saying that "a number of organisations … accuse UKIP of spreading
hate and bigotry and they say it’s not just anti-Europe, it’s
anti-black, it’s anti-minority, anti-immigrants, anti-asylum seekers." Some Tory modernisers believe that the row underlines that David Cameron is a different kind of Tory without a racist bone in his body. They have long been anxious for a row to dramatise the change that he represents. They relish this debate.
Related link: The Conservative leader can move his party towards the centre without fear of a right wing challenge (Peter Franklin in The Guardian).