Tories in retreat as ‘clown-like’ Ukip surge in polls

The Conservatives appear to have ended their assault on Ukip one day before this year's shire local elections, as a poll puts Nigel Farage's party on an eye-watering 22%.

David Cameron and William Hague declined to continue the offensive, which peaked at the weekend, in media appearances this morning as a combination of euroscepticism, fears about immigration and a looming protest vote combined to see Ukip's performance spike.

Pollsters ComRes' survey of the areas voting tomorrow put Ukip just two points behind Labour's 24%. The Conservatives were on 31% with the Liberal Democrats on 12%.

Both the Tory leader and his foreign secretary chose to avoid hitting out at Ukip's candidates this morning.

Cameron, who seven years ago called the 'kippers' "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", refused to repeat that criticism today.

"I'm not calling anybody anything. What I'm doing is talking about what the Conservatives offer at the local elections," he told ITV1's Daybreak programme.

"What I'm doing is talking about what the Conservatives offer at the local elections and in the end it's people who will go and vote and people who will choose.

"With a day to go I think it's important to talk about what the choice is at this election and most people sitting at home face a choice between the Conservatives running the local council or Labour running the local council."

Most of the contests in this year's elections are between the Tories, who dominate local government in the local authorities being contested after reaching their electoral peak last time they were contested in 2009.

This weekend saw justice secretary Ken Clarke brand Ukip supporters "a collection of clowns".

But in a Today programme interview this morning Hague refused to endorse that view, urging the need to vote Conservative "if you want responsible local government" instead.

When pressed on whether he agreed with Clarke, Hague added: "That's not my style… I think when you look at the financial commitments I was just talking about I think you can see why a former chancellor thinks they have a clown-like aspect."

Speaking on the same programme, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes said he believed the Tories would suffer the most from Ukip as they are most obviously attractive to people who "want to vote on the right for less public expenditure".

"They're seeking to be a protest vote for everybody," he complained.