Well I'm finally back from two days in Eastleigh where I had a great time in the by-election campaign - such a great time that I shudder to think of the state of my inbox now that I'm back. So, before I start on it, I'm going to procrastinate by airing some thoughts about the UKIP supporters I met on the doorstep in Eastleigh.
Because the thing is that I did a lot of knocking on doors and speaking to people in a particular type of area - tightly packed, somewhat run down, former council estates where most of the people were working class.
A lot of them were down on our records as being weak Lib Dems or red Lib Dems or soft Labour - all of which basically meant people who had voted for, or who would consider voting for, Labour but who could also be, or had been persuaded previously, to vote Lib Dem.
Now, given that in 2010 we ended up in coalition with the Conservatives it's hardly surprising that a large chunk of them had switched to being solidly Labour voters - they might have considered voting for us after 13 years of a disappointing Labour government but now they were firmly back in the fold. So far, so expected.
And then there were those who had become firmly disillusioned with politics and didn't intend to vote, weren't interested or were outright hostile to anything to do with politics. Again, this was something to be expected in areas where people have largely been passed by by the economic bubble of the New Labour years and haven't seen anything really improve for them or any politicians care about them for years and are now facing a squeeze on their living standards due to circumstances entirely beyond their control.
But, most striking of all, were the former Labour supporters who had switched straight over to UKIP. And these are the people who I want to talk about. Quite a few of them mentioned UKIP's policies on immigration as their reasons for voting. The fact that UKIP positions itself as a "common sense" alternative to politics as usual no doubt helps them pick up those who want to cast an anti-politics vote but these were far from the majority of UKIP's new found support.
So why do so many people vote for a party based on its opposition to immigration (polls show it's the number one priority for UKIP supporters)? Are they all bigots or extremists who hate foreigners?
Well no, they're not. Some of them are, certainly - after all, this is the party which claims to be libertarian while wanting to ban Muslims from being able to have places of worship or where head-scarves if they want to. But really, I think opposition to immigration is just a symptom of their real concerns.
Because these are people who often live in areas which are massively white British. They don't have any direct experience with large scale immigration where they live. And when you speak to them actually they don't hate all immigrants or actually want to stop all of them coming into the country - they're happy for people to come in if they contribute but what they're really worried about is lots of people coming in and taking houses and jobs.
This is actually what they're really concerned about - the dire lack of housing and jobs for ordinary people, especially working class people. They're the ones who are finding it hardest to find jobs, who have to put up with extortionately priced housing which is often in poor condition. They're the ones who face rents which they can barely afford, even with housing benefit, and they're the ones who have to wait for years to even have a chance of getting a council house.
Unfortunately, what a lot of people do is blame this on immigration. If only we didn't have so many people coming into this country then there'd be enough jobs and houses to go round, their thinking goes. And that's not surprising because this is what the media - especially the tabloids - constantly tells us: immigrants are flooding this country and taking houses and jobs and benefits away from hard-working, honest British people.
But immigrants are just a scapegoat. Because even if we had no immigration into this country then there still simply wouldn't be enough houses or jobs to go round. This is the great failure and betrayal of this country by decades of a neo-liberal economic model slavishly followed by Thatcher, Major and New Labour which focussed on a property and banking bubble based on cheap and easy credit which provided the illusion of economic growth while jobs, good wages and housing for normal people became harder and harder to find.
And now that economic model has come crumbling down and normal people - who had no share in the illusory growth of the "boom" years are now suffering in the bust. And throughout this time, as politicians have ignored criticisms of their blind faith in the bubble and ignored the steadily worsening, or at best stagnating, living conditions of the working class.
If any of these people complained to politicians about immigration, believing it to be the cause of their problems, politicians would either call them extremists and bigots or, even worse, pander to anti-immigration sentiments with empty promises - simultaneously legitimising concerns about immigration while doing sod all to address the real problems causing it.
And this is where the anti-immigration, anti-"political correctness" sentiment has come from. Many people see the lack of jobs and housing and blame immigration - but they're afraid that if they say that then they'll be called racists by mainstream politicians.
Then along comes parties like UKIP which say, no you're not racists, it's just political correctness gone mad by the political class - here, vote for us and our promises to stop all immigration and end multiculturalism which is behind all the problems you're facing. And people believe them and give them their votes. It's not surprising. But it doesn't make them bigots.
The tragic truth is that the root causes of concern about immigration are perfectly legitimate - lack of housing and jobs is a real issue. If these issues were tackled then it would only be the genuine bigots, xenophobes and racists who cared about immigration. But they're not being tackled so people vote UKIP - and then mainstream politicians write these people off as bigots and dismiss their concerns. And so the cycle of disillusionment and support for parties like UKIP continues - despite the fact that UKIP's actual policies would do nothing to resolve housing or unemployment issues and would actually plunge the UK into an economic collapse which would hurt the working class worst of all.
So if anyone says that UKIP's voters are extremists then you should ignore them. Some of UKIP's support definitely is from extremists but most of it comes from people with genuine concerns - the target of this concern is incorrect but the root causes of their concern are perfectly legitimate and need tackling.
Because until we do tackle issues with housing and jobs then parties like UKIP, which have always existed with their lies and scapegoating and empty promises, will continue to draw support and feed disillusionment with our democracy. And that can only be bad for everyone.