Week in Review: The ugliness of a Ukip Britain

"It was rush hour, from Charing Cross. It was the stopper going out. We stopped at London Bridge, New Cross, Hither Green. It wasn't until after we got past Grove Park that I could actually hear English being audibly spoken in the carriage. Does that make me feel slightly awkward? Yes."

With these words, spoken by Nigel Farage at the Ukip spring conference last weekened, something changed. Many years ago Ukip was a party of "looneys, fruitcakes and closet racists". Then, slowly, it turned into the party's for an 'open and honest' debate about immigration. And now it was crawling back into the dark nether regions of the British body politick, the sweaty bits in between creases of skin which no shower could ever clean.

There was a subtle change in the media coverage afterwards, with a handful of commentators observing something sinister beneath the charming Faragist bluster. It didn't help that the party's slogan, unveiled at its spring conference, was once used by the BNP.

The party was asked pressing questions about its MEP's voting record in the European parliament. Nigel Farage countered with the predictable excuse that his intention is to neuter the parliament, not contribute to it. It is not a particularly convincing answer. One could do much more damage to the EU with legislative amendments than  by sitting at home whinging about it.

On Friday, Robert Halfon, the Tory backbencher who talks so much sense you occasionally forget which party he's in, said Ukip acted as a cleansing agent for the Conservatives – sucking out their more lunatic supporters.

But he also went one step further – a step he may not have gone were it not for Farage's comments over the weekend. In a section on Ukip MEP Gerard Batten's demand for every Muslim to sign a declaration of non-violence, he said: "[This] to me is literally akin to the Nazis saying Jews should wear a yellow star. I genuinely find it abhorrent and frightening. I'm amazed that man is still an MEP, how someone could say such a thing and then not apologise for it."

Ukip seemed as if it was on the verge of finally recieving a more critical response from the press than it had thus far. Most criticisms of the party are invariably met by a barrage of online attacks complaining that the Westminster/media/EU/Marxist/BBC establishment is intent on destroying Farage's common-sense, stands-to-reason, man-of-the-people uprising. It is an ironic answer, given the party has enjoyed all the coverage and none of the criticism of the three mainstream offerings – not to mention the total media blackout on other small parties, like the Greens or Respect.

But, as Farage himself points out, the main function of Ukip is not to win elections. It is to shift the political debate in Britain decisively to the right. In this, at least, it appears the party has been an unmitigated success.

As the week came to an end – and events in Ukraine remained serious enough to warrant talk of a fundamental realignment of European power – the press were mostly questioning the prime minister about the nationality of his cleaner.

The questioning was not as racist as it sounds, but it was profoundly revealing: Cameron had allowed the rhetoric of his party on immigration to become so severe that the nationality of his domestic assistant was now a political issue.

This was mostly the result of a very troubling speech by the new immigration secretary, James Brokenshire. He used his first outing to strongly suggest that immigration had negative outcomes for the majority of the population, that British workers lost jobs to migrants and that only rich cosmopolitans benefitted from it. This raised questions as to whether any of those rich cosmopolitans he sits next to on the government front bench might also hire foreign nannies and cleaners. Or for that matter, his predessesor, who mostly certainly did. The speech was quickly and colourfully attacked by business leaders and Vince Cable.

No 10 spent most of the week trying to explain why it had not published a report on the 'displacement' of British jobs by immigrants. The reason was that it contradicted the government message on the need to get tough on immigration and – for what it's worth – Theresa May's oft-repeated assertion that 23 British jobs are lost for every 100 migrants. It's a statistic with all the academic credibility of a One Direction concert so it surprised no-one that the home secretary enjoyed using it. Her civil servants eventually had a whisper in her ear.

Cameron's reluctance to publish a report finding that things are basically going OK runs against decades of political law. Typically governments say that they are doing well and will soon be doing even better. It is the opposition's job to suggest otherwise. But Cameron has become so fearful of the Ukip beast – and his own backbenchers, who are honestly closer to Ukip than their leader – that he is now intent on rubbishing his own record in office to pretend that things are going worse than they really are. It is a remarkable sight.

This is partly to do with his own offhand and deeply counter-productive pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands – a goal he is in no position to honour given that it is dependent on how many Brits leave the country. Now that figures show immigrant numbers creeping up again, he must rue the day he made the comment.

Eventually the report was published, but only once it could be timed with an announcement by the home secretary on the extent of police corruption in the Met. It popped up on the web almost the second she got on her feet.

For all that, the public inquiry launched by May in that statement – the latest in a long line for the Stephen Lawrence family – was a new low in the Met's relationship with Westminster. The fact a law is needed specifically to tackle police corruption is an ugly milestone in British politics.

And if Ukip continue to have this corrosive effect on the standard of debate, it will not be the last ugly milestone we speak of.