Ukip EU election poster
Ukip elections posters have been branded racistUkip

Nigel Farage has launched Ukip's European election campaign with a hard-hitting poster campaign instantly branded racist by his opponents. But they are missing the point.

The row surrounds posters claiming 26 million people in Europe are after UK workers' jobs and that 75% of British laws are made in Brussels. One shows a burning Union flag with the EU flag emerging through the flames. Usual Ukip stuff.

And it may be that, beneath the skin, Ukip is essentially the racist, little Englander party its opponents firmly believe it to be, although Farage angrily rejects any such label and it has yet to stick.

But the attacks on him are only likely to further boost his support where it matters, with the groups of voters ready to hear his message, the "left behind" group of white, older, working class, poorly educated men who feel excluded and frightened about their future.

The latest row recalls the infamous moment in the last general election campaign when Gordon Brown dismissed as a "bigoted woman" a voter expressing genuine concerns about immigration, well-founded or otherwise, rather than engaging in the argument. For some, it was that remark that sealed his fate.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument, the "racism" or "bigot" attacks are far more likely to backfire, with target voters believing they are being unfairly smeared for expressing fears over their jobs or supporting a party that promises to solve the problem.

And, of course, all the "establishment parties" Farage routinely attacks have already given ground to him by competing with each other over who would be toughest and most effective in curbing migration.

So, while those voters who are already way beyond Ukip's reach will nod in agreement with the attacks on his platform, those who Farage has his sights set on will very likely dismiss the assaults as a sign of panic by the other parties who continue to ignore their real concerns.

Liberal Democrat Lord Oakeshott may be right when he says: "This is divisive politics. The mask is off now, this has never been about Europe with them, but playing on fears of foreigners, when there are many British people working in the rest of the EU."

Ukip poster
Ukip's claims have been challengedUkip

Meanwhile, Labour's Mike Gapes has probably accurately described the posters as a "campaign designed to sow fear, animosity and hatred towards immigrants. There's a long history of far-right parties trying to scapegoat migrants and immigrants in order to win votes."

But as one Labour backbencher said: "Yes, Ukip is a nasty party but it is no good just going around calling them names, even if it's accurate. We have to take their policies apart and expose their misinformation as well.

"This is a party that peddles misinformation and then blames everything on Europe and immigration which it has wound together into one big scare."

So when Farage's sponsor, millionaire former Tory Paul Sykes, stumps up £1.5m for a huge poster campaign declaring: "26 million people in Europe are looking for work and whose jobs are they after?" or that "75% of our laws are made in Brussels" the first line of attack should be over their accuracy.

There are not 26 million workers lining up to come to the UK for work and the number of laws coming from Brussels is nearer 17% rather than 75%, although it is possible to claim up to 50% emanate from the EU if all minor regulations are taken into account along with primary legislation.

And this is the hard bit. It is exactly what Nick Clegg attempted and notably failed to do with his face-to-face debates with Farage. Some put that down to the fact that the deputy prime minister could not make up his mind whether to attempt a cool demolition of Ukip's statements or "go personal", so ended up doing neither very successfully.

Everyone seems to agree that Ukip plays fast and loose with the truth and demonises foreigners but it is extremely challenging to base a campaign on the nitty gritty of statistics, even if that is what voters claim they want.

But for a growing number of MPs in all parties, that is exactly what is needed. They argue that only an equally hard-hitting campaign based on the facts and repeated time and again from now to EU polling day will stand any chance of reversing the EU surge.