When I was a small child in Gibraltar I remember my mother telling me how she as a child herself had heard gunshots across the frontier. That was the Spanish Civil War. She also told me that in Britain you were allowed to criticise the Queen, but if you publicly criticised Franco in Spain you would be put in prison.

More recently, one of my aunts, now living in Spain, was reminiscing about her deceased husband, my uncle, who got into serious trouble in the 1930s when as a young man he attended a classical music concert over the border in Spain and refused to stand up at the end when the Fascist anthem was played. He had to be smuggled out of the building by his Spanish friends before the security police reached him.

Since the death of Franco in 1975 Spain has joined the community of democratic nations, which is not to say it doesn't still have its problems, but it's now a far better place to live. And yes, that process has included and been in important ways driven by joining the European Union.

England has had its turbulent history, mostly in the distant past, but thankfully never experienced Fascism. And in a curiously innocent way, this country has never "got" Fascism. If we think of far-right politics, we think of the British National Party or the English Defence League, or the National Front before that - basically, gangs of bully boys terrorising ethnic minorities in their neighbourhoods. The far left has sometimes had a fascinated obsession with this phenomenon, and with trying to combat it on the streets.

But in truth, such groups have never commanded much power nationally. Your dear old granny or grandad might perhaps protest that they "have a point" and "the country isn't what it was", but in likelihood they would never bring themselves to vote for such thugs, and would gravitate back to the Conservative Party - or indeed, the Labour Party.

Which brings us to UKIP. Here at last we have an authentic English Fascist Party that "respectable" people can vote for. A convenient "plague on both your houses" party, rejecting entrenched privilege even as much as they reject the socialist welfare state. And oh yes, they are careful these days to disavow racism, even diligently searching for black faces to represent them. They know they have to capture a share of the growing ethnic minority vote. But they can still displace fear and hatred onto other groups: Eastern European immigrants, benefit claimants, gays and other human rights advocates and of course that all-engulfing Other represented by the European Union itself.

The English Fascist Party is much like other European Fascist parties of the past and present. It disavows the bully boys, although they are always in the background and on the fringes. It is respectable, but it is straight-talking, in contradistinction to the established parties that form the Westminster coterie with their evasive double-talk and management-speak. While pandering to the cult of the "strong leader" who can cut through the bullshit (yes, Farage, the pint-and-fag-in-hand Everyman, the much more acceptable and TV-friendly Mosley de nos jours!), it can claim to speak for decent, no-nonsense English values. Your granny or grandad can vote for them with a clear conscience and without shame. Like the Front National in France or the Tea Party in the USA, it can easily be embraced by people in your own family who say they are "not racist, but..."

This is why UKIP is so much more dangerous than the BNP. True, so long as we have a first-past-the-post voting system, they are unlikely to get many MPs elected, let alone form a government. But the Conservatives in particular are terriified of their growing influence, and so policies will be heavily skewed to win that support back for the mainstream.

(Lest my "granny/grandad" references be dismissed as ageism, let me add that the former UKIP MEP who excused those "Bongo-Bongo Land" remarks of his on the grounds of generational differences in language, is the same age as me!)

As an immigrant myself, I actually do believe in many characteristically British or English values, and genuinely think that the best of these were instrumental in Fascism's never having taken root in this country. So I have some residual grounds for optimism. But it is still shameful that UKIP is projected to gain the greatest share of the vote in the upcoming EU elections. Please may this not happen.