I just don't think they can do it. Tories who think UKIP's growth lies in its unreconstructed Toryism are falling into the sort of stupid empiricism one would expect from the stupid party. As a populist party they will say and do anything if they think they can get votes. Remember their "libertarianism"? It's kinda vanished with the mist, because opposing the sell off of Royal Mail is popular and idiotic flat tax policies are not. It means combating UKIP is tough because this leopard constantly changes its spots. UKIP is like mercury - fluid, frictionless, and utterly toxic.
The problems of dealing with UKIP are well known. Tack to the centre ground and disgruntled Tory voters will disproportionately stick with Farage. Tack right to try and win them back, swing voters and soft Tories in all likelihood will cast their ballots elsewhere. So what Iain says about CCHQ "looking to expose and exploit Ukip's numerous mistakes and the crazier statements of some of its most senior figures" is all they've got left. He's also right that it won't work - unless its entire front rank are exposed as tax dodgers with unfortunate internet habits. And yes, there are many in UKIP who don't care for the "vote Nigel, get Ed" argument. It's not so much they want to sink the Tories, which they do, but they believe they're on the cusp of replacing them.
Another option theoretically open to the Tories is the offer a positive programme. Yet they immediately run up against a problem. What vision can the party offer post-2015? A Britain floating on yet another house price bubble, stagnating and declining wages, Gove's pub quiz curriculum*, more privatised healthcare, the running down of public services and a bucketload more insecurity and worry does not make for the most appetising of choices. Of course, they won't present it like that. But rerunning their 2010 campaign of nice, liberal Dave is as impossible as it would be insincere. Nor is there anything they can really promise. Three years in and they're politically exhausted. They're tied to a deeply damaging neoliberalism that basically greenlights their rich friends' looting of the economy, and that's it. Their return would merely lock Britain into a death spiral of terminal economic decline.
So outflanked to the right, and with nothing of substance to offer. Not a great position to be in if you want to win a general election. Still, they could point out how much worse Labour would be. However, the Labour of 2015 will be different to the one we have today. For one, it will have substantive policies that offer a real change to the complacency of the Coalition years. And it will be talking about them. By prattling on about "weak Ed" now, the Tories have instructed Labour that a personality contest is a game that can only benefit their poison pen politics and that they are something to be avoided. Should Labour be successful in evading Crosby's gambits and battle the election on the field of policy, the Tories will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.
But the Conservatives have always got their record to fall back on. Ah, but it isn't as easy as that. An unseemly bunfight with their erstwhile partners in the yellow party awaits as the parties compete for credit for the pitifully few genuinely progressive and popular policies enacted on their watch.
Incredibly, some paid-for commentators like to portray the 2015 election as "Dave's to lose".
There is only one event that could upset this depressing set of circumstances the Tories face. And that is if Scotland votes for independence next year. At a stroke a solid chunk of Labour seats vanish and the party faces a difficult, but not insurmountable task of winning a majority. The polls are looking decidedly 'no' at the moment. But as referendum day a year hence approaches, there will be more than a few in the Tory Party quietly crossing their fingers and hoping for a yes.