When David Cameron finally made his long-promised Europe speech there were some Tory commentators who suggested that UKIP would now perhaps like to stand aside at the general election in order to give Conservatives a clear run and thereby secure their long dreamt-of In/Out EU referendum.
The response from Ukipians was unsurprising: dream on!
And yet, many political observers have tended to regard UKIP as being somewhere between a single issue pressure group and a fully-fledged political party.
If that was ever true, it certainly isn’t now. At UKIP’s spring rally in Exeter over the weekend something remarkable took place; the party realised to its own surprise that it had stopped “banging on about Europe”.
This isn’t to say that getting out of the EU has ceased to be a defining and uniting characteristic of the party. It most certainly is still that. But the idea that if Britain does leave the EU within the next few years then UKIP members will go back to tending their roses and the party will wither away no longer has a shred of credibility.
The Exeter conference saw a huge appetite by UKIP members (nearly 800 of them were gathered despite the terrible weather making travel conditions awful) to passionately discuss other policy areas.
This was the conference that saw UKIP communicate a wide-ranging and coherent policy agenda; on immigration, on energy, on the economy, on welfare reform, on education, on law and order.
On a huge range of important policy areas, UKIP has seen that the other three main parties have abandoned majority views and has positioned itself in the vanguard of public opinion.
No wonder we are now seeing David Cameron and George Osborne make a dash back towards their own core vote. Osborne adopted a much more sceptical position on green levies in the Budget, while Cameron is now trying to give the impression of toughening-up on immigration policy as well as on the EU.
But getting out of the quicksands of coalition politics and back onto the firm ground of Conservative politics is desperately difficult for the modernising Tory duo. UKIP, with its unapologetic assertion of common sense policies has a natural advantage over the Tory modernisers.
Nigel Farage did not hug huskies and hoodies or pledge to match bloated Labour public spending levels. He did not set his face against an EU referendum and then do a U-turn under pressure. People know what he stands for and the same is true now of a cadre of senior UKIP public performers.
So UKIP is winning new support from the public for a wide range of reasons and in a wide range of policy areas. The party has a passionate and growing activist base that is full of optimism and energy and closely identifies with the leadership. What a contrast to the bedraggled and demoralised Tory grassroots in the wake of the gay marriage debacle.
What I saw in Exeter leads me to believe with more certainty than ever before that UKIP has permanently broken the traditional Conservative Party monopoly on the centre-Right of British politics. The Conservative leadership abandoned voters with traditional views, banking on the idea that they had nowhere else to go. That was wrong. And now they’ve gone – to UKIP – many will not come back.
This is a tremendously exciting development for all those of us who have despaired of ever getting the ideas of the common sense majority of hard-working, law-abiding, aspirational British voters back into the centre of political debate.
UKIP is here to stay and has a stable and successful strategy for growth based on a multiplicity of popular policy positions. There is no single political event or personality that will cause it to go into long-term decline.
The months ahead will undoubtedly see the party make further inroads into the traditional working class vote that Labour long ago abandoned. But thus far it is the Tories who have been taken to the cleaners.
Patrick O'Flynn is the Chief Political Commentator at the Daily Express. He tweets at @oflynnexpress