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INSIDE TRACK: Farage feasts on political corpse of Maria Miller

RULE 3b of modern politics - never miss a political opportunity if you can help it.

So it was no surprise to hear that just hours after a tearful Maria Miller announced her (forced) resignation, Nigel Farage turned up in her Hampshire constituency sporting a big smile. The indefatigable Ukip leader was in Basingstoke to announce his party's General Election candidate.

Now the anti-EU force will have its work cut out next May as Ms Miller has a healthy 13,178 majority.

But Mr Farage will be hoping voters' memories will be long enough to recall the drama of this week when they come to mark their ballot papers next spring.

In his post-Miller remarks, the Ukip chief underlined how he has enthusiastically taken on the role of anti-politician, declaring: "Yet again, this is the political class looking after its own and letting down the electorate."

Having become the party of protest south of the border in the stead of the Liberal Democrats, Mr Farage is expecting Ukip to unleash an "earthquake" next month when voters turn out for the European elections.

A poll this week placed Ukip at its highest level, 15%, with Nick Clegg's LibDems limping behind on 9%. This could mean Mr Farage and his team go one better than in 2009 and come top.

It was suggested the Ukip effect at the 2010 election deprived David Cameron of a majority government. Certainly, this is the fear at Conservative HQ for 2015.

Looking back, it seems the Tory leader has constantly sought to woo back disaffected Conservatives from Ukip, whether it is with the promise of an in/out referendum, crackdown after crackdown on immigration, or the pro-grey-vote Budget.

In the past, the Prime Minister rarely mentioned Ukip; once famously dismissing them as mostly "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". But this week as he launched his party's Euro campaign he focused on them, calling Mr Farage and company "extremists", and hopeless in representing British interests in Brussels.

Mr Cameron, like everyone else, is expecting the voters of Middle England to give him a bloody nose next month by voting in swathes for the anti-this and the anti-that Ukip.

After a week like this one, the Tory leader will be organising a Whitsun relaunch, possibly with a Cabinet reshuffle, to introduce some new blood and fresh impetus.

Of course, while Ukip has no discernible presence in Scotland, this does not prevent the SNP, from time to time, holding up Mr Farage as the real face of Tory England.

And in this regard, such sentiment feeds in to the Nationalists' own Project Fear about the prospect of another London-centric Conservative government at Westminster.

Yet Mr Cameron cannot afford too many weeks like this one when, because of a lack of appreciation of the public's continued fury over MPs' expenses, another piece of political credibility fell away.

This, spurred on by the unquantifiable Ukip factor, might mean the Tory leader, despite the improving economic backdrop, again fails next spring to secure a working majority and once more has to seek the hand of Mr Clegg in a political marriage.

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