UKIP candidate giving a Nazi salute
UKIP have been causing a stir electorally for a while now but last week’s local elections saw them take so many votes, with so few relevant policies, such poor candidates, and so little campaign work, that they cannot be ignored any longer.
They are clearly a threat to the Conservative Party. Ken Clarke went on Sky News to slag them off, calling them “clowns” just before polling day. Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t enough to persuade voters not to vote for them. David Cameron had previously called UKIP “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. In the run up to polling day, bizarrely, he wouldn’t even utter the word “UKIP” in interviews.
UKIP were fielding a huge number of candidates and another pointless Tory strategy was to find the craziest ones and expose them. “So what?” the British electorate replied.
UKIP are a dangerous right-wing force but the Tories’ masterplan for dealing with them was counter-productive. These jokers are no laughing matter.
Regression to the Mean
David Cameron and his strategist, Gideon “George” Osborne, only have themselves to blame for providing UKIP with fertile territory. They have legitimised being mean. It is now perfectly acceptable in polite company to complain about single mothers again (remember Peter Lilley’s little list?). Their lexicon of “scroungers” and “strivers” has become adopted first in the tabloid press, then the broadcast media, and now in workplaces across the country.
It was the Tories who used vilification of benefit claimants as a political weapon. They can’t complain that UKIP picked it up and showed how experts can appeal to the worst in human nature. Their offer to voters is “Feel free to hate”. The Tories may have hoped to direct their poison at certain groups. UKIP have no such restraint. They have free rein to be anti-benefit claimant, anti-disabled, anti-single mother, homophobic, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant and (from the communications I receive from UKIP stalkers I’m entitled to say this) racist.
The electoral arithmetic for David Cameron looks daunting. UKIP takes 6 votes from the Conservative Party for every 1 it takes from Labour. UKIP gained no seats from Labour last week.
The Tory Party is deeply divided on Europe, as always, and Nigel Farage will not consider any pact with them while Cameron is leader. The Party hated Cameron’s modernisation exercise before the 2010 election but put up with it in order to win the election, which it didn’t. The backwoodsmen won’t get fooled again. The overwhelming pressure on Cameron is to chase UKIP to the right. He won’t catch them, of course.
If the Tories stay where they are, more and more voters, members, activists, councillors and eventually MPs will defect to UKIP. If they move right, Labour will hold the centre ground almost unopposed. The centre ground is where elections are decided.
Cameron’s position is impossible. Luckily for him, he’s got arch-strategist Osborne to help him.
Making Plans for Nigel
Labour cannot ignore UKIP and just wait for the 2015 election to drop into our laps either. I’ve heard a few strategies for countering UKIP on the doorstep and I think it’s important we use the right one. People feel fed up with politicians generally, UKIP voters are not all (or even mostly) incorrigible bigots. They voted UKIP for many different reasons.
One strategy, used by the Tories so unsuccessfully, is to ridicule and abuse them. Of course many of their candidates and supporters deserve to be shown up as the racist thugs that they are but the more ‘politicians’ slag them off, the more the public like them.
Another strategy is to pick holes in the UKIP manifesto. This is easy to do. Anyone who reads political manifestos would be appalled by it. So, what percentage of UKIP voters, or any voters, have read the UKIP manifesto, or any manifesto? It really doesn’t matter what they write in it, people will vote UKIP for their own reasons and we have to understand that. One voter told our canvasser that he would be voting UKIP because of “cookies on computers”. This was not because he was worried about being spied on by having cookies placed on his system, it was the annoying warnings and disclaimers that pop up informing you about it. He thought that was political correctness gone mad and UKIP would put a stop to it.
Politics is out of touch with many ordinary people. This is a dangerous time and an extreme right-wing movement could take hold unless we act. I believe we need to ask people why they think UKIP want their vote. What will they use it for? What sort of country would they create? Would there be an NHS? Jobs? Foreign holidays? Retiring abroad? Would people you know be persecuted for being gay, an ethnic minority, disabled, poor?
Most of all, we need to hold our ground politically and not chase UKIP to the right. We need to give our vision of a Britain we are proud of, tolerant, fair and outward-looking, where people have rights and also responsibilities. Tempting though it is to let Nigel and Dave slug it out, we need to get involved too. Our country needs us.