Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, is not lavish in his praise of his party's election candidates, but he does have one thing to say in their defence: "Have you met the cretins we have in Westminster? Do you think we can be worse than that?".
That's intended to be rhetorical, but it's a question I'm going to consider. UKIP has had only one MP, a defector from the Conservatives who apparently never paid his party subs and changed his mind after six months, so we can't say anything about the quality of its representatives in the Commons. But it has been much more successful in European elections. In June 1999 it had three candidates elected to the European Parliament, in 2004 twelve, and in 2009 thirteen. Altogether, there have been 22 different UKIP MEPs. How have they got on?
Two of them have been sent to prison. Ashley Mote, elected in 2004, was immediately suspended from UKIP when it found out he was to be tried for benefit fraud. In 2007 he was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment. Tom Wise, also elected in 2004, had the UKIP whip withdrawn in March 2007 over an expenses scandal, and was convicted in November 2009 of False Accounting and sentenced to two years in prison.
Five others have left the party before the end of their terms as MEPs. Michael Holmes, at that time the party leader, was elected in 1999, but resigned from the party nine months later complaining of "bitterness and infighting". Robert Kilroy-Silk was elected in 2004 but resigned the UKIP whip after four months, and left the party soon after to found another more to his taste. Nikki Sinclaire was elected in 2009 but had the whip withdrawn after nine months and subsequently won a sex discrimination case against the party (there was a later rapprochement). David Campbell Bannerman, elected in 2009, defected to the Conservatives in May 2011. And Marta Andreasen, followed him in February this year: she described Farage as a "stalinist".
So of the 28 occasions when European electors have chosen a UKIP candidate, there are seven - a quarter - on which their choice was frustrated by criminality or animosity between the candidate and the party.
To put the criminality in context, I've attempted to count all the MPs and MEPs elected in the last three elections in England, Scotland and Wales who have been imprisoned. Excluding the UKIP MEPs, there are no MEPs and five MPs - David Chaytor, Eric Illsley, Jim Devine, and Elliott Morley. all Labour members convicted in 2011 of false accounting over the expenses scandal (Margaret Moran was unfit to stand trial), and Chris Huhne, convicted this year of perverting the course of justice. That's out of 188 non-UKIP MEPs elected (I'm counting per election rather than per distinct MEP), and 1902 MPs elected (ignoring by-elections). So 0.24% of non UKIP MPs and MEPs are jailbirds, compared with 7.1% of UKIP MEPs.
(The Conservatives are not immune: three Tory peers have been to jail - Jeffrey Archer for perjury and Paul White and John Taylor for fiddling their parliamentary expenses.)
It's harder to keep track of defections and other fallings out, but the immediate comparison is that there has been one defection to UKIP - Roger Helmer from the Conservatives. So UKIP now has eleven MEPs (who they describe as "the UKIP team of 12").
To answer Farage's question - "do you think we can be worse?". Yes I do.