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Ukip surge driven by British mistrust of Europe, but Cameron, Miliband and Clegg ‘just don’t get it’

Ukip surge driven by British mistrust of Europe, but Cameron, Miliband and Clegg ‘just don’t get it’

🕔26.May 2014

For the first time since 1906 a political party other than Conservative or Labour has won most of the votes cast in a national election. No wonder the grin on Nigel Farage’s rubbery face is even wider than usual today.

Ukip’s performance at the European Parliament elections lived up to ‘earthquake’ predictions and improved on an impressive display at the local government elections on May 22.

With results still to be declared in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland, Ukip has picked up 27.5 per cent of votes cast across the UK in the European elections, with Labour beaten into second place on 25.4, the Conservatives on 23.9 and the poor old Liberal Democrats on a scarcely believable 6.9. Even the Greens beat the Lib Dems.

Here in the West Midlands, Ukip took three of the seven seats up for grabs. Labour and the Conservatives have two each.

The West Midlands line-up, therefore, is: Jill Seymour (Ukip), Neena Gill (Lab), Philip Bradbourn (Con), Jim Carver (Ukip), Sion Simon (Lab), Anthea McIntyre (Con), Bill Etheridge (Ukip).

Ukip topped the poll in six of the 10 English regions to declare, with its strongest performance coming in the East Midlands, where its vote was 33 per cent.

This is a disaster for the three main parties, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Not bad going for a party written off by the political establishment as a ‘protest vote’ wrapped around a bunch of fruitcakes and a leader satirised as the worst type of bigoted golf club bar bore.

Before the European elections it suited the likes of David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to portray Ukip as an anti-establishment movement cashing in on a strong public disregard for politics. They were not, it was suggested, a serious political party with serious policies.

Well, up to a point. Of course Ukip is cashing in on decades of bitter public disenchantment with the mainstream political parties. Ukip also benefits from having a leader who, image-wise, is just the affable sort of bloke you might imagine you would like to bump into down the pub.

But there has to be more to the Farage Factor than simply flicking two fingers at the establishment.

What really drives Ukip forward is very strong views on two matters of the utmost concern to voters. That is, Britain’s future in the European Community and immigration.

Ask ten people in the street what Cameron, Miliband or Clegg stand for and you will struggle to receive a coherent answer. Ask what Farage stands for, and it’s a fair bet that all ten responses will mention getting Britain out of Europe and ending immigration.

Ukip’s views on Europe – get out as quickly as possible – and on immigration – there’s too much of it – chime with the views of millions of Britons, even if many find it convenient to keep quiet about this for fear of upsetting a liberal-dominated media and political establishment.

In this case, the usual Labour, Tory and Lib Dem response to electoral disaster – we’re not getting our message across – isn’t going to work because it is precisely the establishment’s broadly pro-Europe message that people don’t like. The harder that Cameron, Miliband and Clegg try to get their message across, the more benefit will accrue to Ukip, unless of course the message is changed.

Cameron can promise an in-out referendum should he win the next General Election, but his preference remains for renegotiating the terms of Britain’s EU membership rather than withdrawal. Renegotiation is not something that appeals to many people because there is a general recognition that it is unlikely Britain will be unable to draw any substantial change out of our EU partners.

There would appear to be no chance of Labour entering the election with even a hint that the party thinks our future lies outside of Europe. As for the Lib Dems, it doesn’t really matter what they think.

The thing is, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg just don’t get it. Even if they vaguely understand the deep-rooted dislike among the British people for Brussels law-making and regulations, and the fact that UK courts are bound by EU law, they show little sign of doing anything about it.

As for clamping down on immigration, this is an issue where a sensible debate is impossible without accusations of racism being thrown hysterically about. Britain has been in a state about this since the 1960s.

Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech was delivered in 1968, but most people forget that it was a Labour prime minister, Jim Callaghan, who as Home Secretary subsequently passed the Commonwealth Immigrants Act which restricted entry to British passport holders who had “no substantial connection with Britain”. The aim was to stop an influx of Kenyan Asians who held British passports and naturally assumed they would be welcome in the mother country.

It would have been difficult to envisage in 1968 that Britain in 2014 would have borders open to immigrants from almost anywhere in a rapidly expanding European Community. And even if there is no evidence that Romanians are taking our jobs, the claim fits Ukip’s agenda perfectly and is something that is perceived to be true by the man and woman in the street.

And in politics, perception is everything, as Nigel Farage is discovering to his benefit.

There have been many false political new dawns before and threats to the status quo. The SDP burned bright in the 1980s before Labour regrouped under Tony Blair and become electable again. Various extreme right-wing parties have barely managed to get above the 10 per cent mark in elections, but Ukip has cleverly disguised its leanings in this regard.

The former Liberal leader David Steel was fond of saying that if only people would vote Liberal then his party would be able to smash the two-party system and form a government. It is not inconceivable at the next General Election, if Ukip can attract upwards of 30 per cent of the vote, that Mr Farage may find himself with a substantial number of MPs and forming the opposition party to a Con-Lib Dem or Lab-Lib Dem coalition, or in his wildest dreams, sitting in Number Ten at the head of a Ukip government.

Fantasy politics? Probably. But nothing can be ruled out this close to a General Election.



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