Sooner or later, David Cameron is going to have to deal with Ukip

Do we really have to do this again? The same godforsaken dance, over the same godforsaken issue.

I suppose we do. Immigration, it has been decreed, is the defining issue of our time. Who decreed it no one is sure. The voters of Clacton? The good people of Rochester and Strood? It doesn’t really matter. The band has struck up, so we must choose our partners.

There was a moment at Tory conference when then mood shifted. You could sense it. Conservative activists were tired of running from Ukip. They were fed up of having to apologise for not being patriotic enough, or conservative enough, or mad-as-a-box-of-fruit-bats enough. The Reckless defection had proved the final straw. They wanted to be given license to take Ukip on.

But they weren’t given that license. The Prime Minister gave a powerful speech, but he refused to take the fight to Farage, opting instead to hide behind Ed Miliband. “Go to bed with Nigel Farage and wake up with Ed Miliband” was a nice sound bite. But it wasn’t the call to arms that his party needed.

He refused to take the fight to Ukip in Clacton again a fortnight later, effectively ceding the seat to Douglas Carswell. And based on what we’ve seen over the past couple of days, his strategy in Rochester isn’t going to be to take the fight to Ukip there either, but instead to attempt to neutralise Nigel Farage’s party…