MEP Roger Helmer
Ukip's Newham by-election candidate Roger HelmerJean-Pierre Muller/AF

Ukip, to use the fashionable phrase, is on a journey. It wants voters to believe it has systematically purged any racists, homophobes and downright loonies from its ranks and must now be viewed as a respectable, grown up political party.

And few seem to highlight that rocky road to respectability better than 70-year-old former Tory and businessman, Roger Helmer, the Euro MP chosen to fight the forthcoming Newark by-election, which leader Nigel Farage ducked.

At first, and maybe even second and third glace, Helmer appears the classic "old buffer", down to the moustache (not one of the currently fashionable forms of face hair), ruddy complexion and love of rural pursuits.

The word "bluff" also leaps to mind. He is proud of giving it to you straight and saying what he thinks. In the past, what he thinks has upset quite a lot of people.

Helmer has been a source of some of the most extraordinary quotes from Ukip members, and that is saying something, on everything from climate change, rape and rioters to homophobia, gay marriage and same-sex relationships.

Indeed, the word "gay" seems to crop up with the greatest regularity when searching for memorable Helmer quotes. And they are quotes that have seen him become a particular target amid suggestions he betrays precisely the sort of views Ukip really stands for.

He has described allegations of homophobia as "merely a propaganda device" designed to "denigrate and stigmatise those holding conventional opinions", adding that it didn't exist in reality because: "I have yet to meet anyone who has an irrational fear of homosexuals, or of homosexuality".

He has declared that individuals should be able to prefer heterosexuality over homosexuality just as they might prefer Earl Grey tea over other varieties.

And he once stated: "Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to 'turn' a consenting homosexual?"

However, he has now relaxed, telling the Sun after he was selected to fight Newark that rather than describing homosexuality as "abnormal and unacceptable" as he once did, he would "probably express myself differently" nowadays.

Gateshead protest at Ukip
Ukip has faced protests over viewsIan Forsyth/Getty Images

He told the Pink News: "They were a couple of peripheral comments made more than 10 years ago. The world has changed, it's a new place now."

He added he was now "liberal and tolerant" about homosexuality and has "no interest in telling consenting adults what they may or may not do".

He has also been forced to recant after a telling off from Farage for suggesting gay marriage was a slippery slope which could lead to legalising communal marriage and incest.

He later said he wished he had not written the remarks as they were not what most people cared about.

Talking about so-called date rape, he said: "the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend's mind."

Rather less alarming, perhaps, were his suggestions during the London riots that the Army should "shoot looters and arsonists on sight" and that climate change was a "great myth".

But does he still hold and espouse those views or is he part of the journey that Ukip is undertaking and which was given a great PR push when Farage appeared with a diverse group of candidates and supporters to shake off the "racist" label.

With the full glare of the media spotlight on him in the looming by-election, where he hopes to become the party's first Westminster MP, he and his views will be tested to destruction.

Undoubtedly both he and his leader will claim there is a media plot to only highlight the negative aspects of their campaign and candidate's utterances. That's grown up politics for you.

But there will be the real desire to understand the nature of Ukip's "journey" to respectability and mainstream politics, ironically just the things they are defined as being against, and whether it is being undertaken on a one-way ticket or a cheap day return.