Yesterday (22nd of May 2013) was local and European election day. Today, as expected, UKIP saw a huge surge in their vote, winning a large number of local council seats, stealing votes from both Labour and the Tories, and becoming a serious fourth party in the process. The weekend is likely to bring more worrying news as they are likely to have significant success in the European elections, meaning Britain will have a worryingly loud and obnoxious voice in European politics over the coming years (how to win friends and alienate people).
That loud obnoxious voice has its biggest foghorn bore in the shape of Nigel Farage. It seems we really are living in the area of the cult of celebrity, to the extent that now our politics are driven by character. We have Farage and we have Boris. I think of Boris as a Trojan Horse, or perhaps a Trojan Bafoon; a powerful intelligent, Machiavellian figure hidden within a pantomime outfit. I’m not sure at what point being the Have I Got New For You court jester crossed over into being a suitable person for any position of power. I’m not sure I would want Boris running the school tuck shop, let alone our capital city.
Farage is a different beast, a Demagogue for sure, paying his round then converting pub bore politics into real power. Farge has guided the UKIP ship so successfully because he knows how to use rhetoric to play on peoples fears. The central fears are Europe and Immigration, the two issues the other parties are so scared to discuss in public that his particular brand of hate politics has been allowed to gain traction. UKIP point out to the public all the things that are going wrong: the welfare system (both benefits cheats and benefit abuse, abuse of political power from the political classes, the economic crisis, the financial crisis, business problems, employment and the degeneration of public services. They then point the finger of blame squarely at Europe and Immigration, providing disillusioned voters with two convenient sacrificial goats. It is an approach which appeals to sections of the left, sections of the right and to a wide cross section of ages and social economic backgrounds. It appeals to a mass of people who have been hugely impacted by the pressures put on individuals over the last few years due to the above mentioned problems.
The three main parties and the electorate have allowed this to happen. The three major parties have (with Nick Clegg’s head to head debates an honourable exception) refused to even enter into detailed discussion of the issues UKIP raise, and therefore coming across as detached and playing into the hands of UKIP as the supposed voice of the people down the pub. Their other strategy has been to go on all out attack, with all three parties centering around a clear strategy to target UKIP as racist, repeat the error of a mass of people on twitter and Facebook. Their brand of insidious racism is, of course, dangerous, but this strategy has failed, as people have seen straight through it as UKIP had already gained too much momentum and were seen as too credible.
The three parties have treated the general public as idiots, and espeically those who were considering voting for UKIP. The presumption has been that there could only be three reasons people would vote UKIP.
1. A protest vote
2. Cult of personality
3. A one policy vote
The reality is that UKIP have actually put together a package of policies and a group of people on the ground which has proved to be far more varied and persuasive than people thought possible. For large percentages of the country UKIp, of course, seem like an absurd and dangerous choice. But a scary number of people are being sold on them for a range of reasons, and the depth and variety of these reasons has not been acknowledged by the three main parties.
The three main parties have, therefore, failed to effectively address this issue and to effectively address the problems behind the UKIp policies. They have failed the country, the three leaders in particular. They should have been better than mud throwing and lazy press campaigns. They needed to be more organised, more rigorous and more energetic in their dismantling of the UKIP argument. It does not take a huge amount of careful analysis to disarm UKIP’s policies, but the analysis needs to be down and the message needs to be conveyed in concise, comprehensive and convincing terms. They have been dismissed as merely dangerous idiots, when in fact Farage is a calculating, charismatic man who has, in this instance, outwitted each of them.
UKIP play on hate, and the attack back on them needs to do the same. The response needs to be two fold.
1. Show up the UKIp argument, show why the narrative around immigration and Europe is flawed and wrong. This can be done with clarity, figures and force.
2.Address the dangers UKIP represent if they get any kind of power. They now have a voice in local councils, they will have a significant voice in european politics and, if the momentum continues, they may well get a decent percentage of votes and even seats at the next general election. I would be stunned if they got more than one seat (I can’t see them finding a constituency which will see half the electorate vote for them) but it is not absolutely impossible that they could get some seats, and some political commentators are predicting as many as ten seats in the House of Commons. So lets go with that worst case scenario. They get ten and it is a hung parliament, they form a coalition with the tories and in theory get some power.
UKIP having this power can mean that their domestic policies (thought up on a fag packet and utterly disastrous in conception) could be given some consideration. The euro sceptics within the tory party (of which there are a few) and UKIP form a dangerous cocktail. They could then push through an aggressive stance on Europe, and even work towards us pulling out in some form or another. Aggressive target driven policies on immigration could be introduced.
I don’t have time to go into each point, but any logical expansion of each would see us moving towards being a country cut adrift from Europe and the rest of the world in social, economic and political terms and left to drown. In terms of public policy, the welfare system, public services and immigration a proud and rich history of being world leaders on each would come under threat.
On a broader level their increase in power represents an increase in an ideology which breeds fear and mistrust in individuals and communities, the ramifications of which are only negative.
People are worried about UKIP’s success, and so they should be, but to blame voters is to blame democracy. We should be blaming the three main parties for having failed us and for having not be able to address the threat UKIP pose. They have arrogantly ignored the problem or go about attacking it in the wrong way. The flawed financial system, the problems with our welfare system (whatever your leanings) the failure on employment, the widening divide between rich and poor and the huge structural problems in our public services are all products of failures from the three main parties. It is no surprise people are looking elsewhere. It is terrifying that for some UKIP represent an option, but the answer can’t be to ignore them, the answer has to be to fight back and for each of the parties to redouble their efforts to offer us something more rigorous and convincing than the flawed figures and policies that have been offered up over the last few years.