It is a tragic fact that politicians are once again talking to themselves while commentators encourage them to do so. We have failed to inspire the public even to throw us out.My response:
The challenge after this election is not how to defeat UKIP. It is how to speak truthfully, hopefully and realistically to a population thoroughly disenchanted with the entire political system.
You're right that there has been a strong shift towards not voting; this has been developing over several General Elections and is symptomatic of a general mistrust of politicians. There is a cosy stalemate that has emerged between the media and senior politicians, whereby the media limit their questions to ones designed to catch politicians out and trip them into saying something that can be misinterpreted, and politicians avoid saying anything of any substance or meaning in reply. Both tendencies reinforce the other. Both lead to people switching off.
UKIP have succeeded in tapping into this and presenting themselves as a break from the old order. In that regard, by focusing on "gaffes" made by UKIP spokesmen or candidates, the traditional media have played into their hands by confirming that UKIP are not part of the club and that the Establishment is ganging up on them.
There are opportunities in this for the Conservatives, though. Labour have shown themselves to be a failure (I think it has been quoted that no opposition party has ever not won a Euro election until now?), so the clear focus must now be on UKIP. The question is, why have so many Conservative supporters left for UKIP? My suggestion would be that a general mistrust of Cameron, a feeling that when the day comes he will wriggle out of the referendum promise, and a feeling that he is a highly experienced politician and "one of them", are the main reasons.
To an extent, Cameron's shiftiness on policy has possibly been because he has been hamstrung by the constraints of coalition politics. But now, with the Liberals effectively dead in the water and the EU staring at a clear mandate for a British exit if current terms are maintained, he can afford to strike out, say what he thinks, and maybe even do it.
In his shoes, I would
(a) Describe the exact form of EU that he would wish to see. I for one don't actually know what that is.
(b) Set. A. Date. For. The. Referendum. Also, publish the question that will be set. That way, it might look as if he is committed to it.
(c) Go to Brussels and ask for his vision of Europe. Explain bluntly that they can say "no" if they wish but it appears that the UK will leave if they do so. Point out that there is now a hard, immovable deadline.
(d) Don't be afraid to tell interviewers they've asked a stupid question, or one based on a truckload of false assumptions. Stop being a Westminster pansy and speak up. Don't let them dictate the terms of the interview. The media are not your friends, stop treating them as such. Show a little steel.
I know of two Wycombe votes that may go back from UKIP to Conservative if this happens.