There is a good reason for UKIP existing in UK politics. Its original raison d'etre, to support UK withdrawal from the EU, is a position that was ridiculed for so long by the three major parties. Indeed, it was long thought that the Conservative Party was denying itself electoral victory by opposing the Euro and having a strong Eurosceptic wing to it.
Those days are long gone, and given EU attempts to expand regulation across business, spending on rent-seeking industries and its persistently unaudited accounts, there are sound reasons to promote leaving the EU on economic liberal grounds, and retention of sovereignty.
So there is a space for a party that seeks to leave the EU.
UKIP's views on immigration, which are decidedly not libertarian, are still views that no major party has been good at taking on. Support for a points based immigration system, that means migrants are clearly net contributors, is not racist or nationalistic, but likely to be acceptable to many who reject immigration for more unsavoury reasons (i.e. don't like foreigners, especially ones who work harder than me or for less money). Similarly, opposition to an absolute open door for migration from across the EU does have a sound basis in terms of managing the obvious claims to the welfare state, and being able to exclude convicted serious criminals.
Beyond that, the real potential for UKIP is to be the party to keep the Conservatives honest to certain key principles. Like less regulation rather than more. Like believing in not only fiscal responsibility, but in reducing public debt and the size of the state. Like promoting a simpler tax system, with lower rates. Like encouraging competition and choice in public services, and confining the welfare state to relieving poverty as a safety net, not providing support to people on middle incomes.
However, to do that UKIP needs three major internal steps to transform itself. These have become apparent in recent weeks with the dramatic growth in candidate numbers, and the symptoms of a party that has grown from a small bunch of enthusiasts to a large bunch of amateurs.
It has parallels to what happened to the BNP, which has had very brief bursts of popularity, but has long been so toxic, rightfully so, that is only attracted people who either wanted to join but retain a low profile, or those for whom BNP participation wouldn't ruin their employment or business prospects. That's because they weren't that good in the first place.
UKIP can be different. It does explicitly ban BNP, NF and EDL members from joining, but does so on an honour basis. However, it has a lot of people who have joined with little experience of politics and has developed an ad hoc approach to policy. It has a window of opportunity to change this. Criticism leading up to the county council elections will do little harm, but UKIP ought to be aiming to come first next year in the European elections, and do well in the larger scale local elections. To do this, it needs to ensure it harnesses what is good and negates what is bad: