Steve Beauchampé on Britain’s fractured political machinery….
Mr. Angry and Mrs. Indignant asserted themselves at the ballot box last week, and their message was clear – the public school educated toff is dead, long live the public school educated toff.
Come the 2015 General Election there will not be a cigarette paper to put between the policies of the Conservatives and the United Kingdom Independence Party, at least as far as the perceived key issues of Europe, Immigration, Welfare and Law and Order are concerned. The steady move to the Right which the Tories have undertaken during the last 18 months under Prime Minister David Cameron’s increasingly beleaguered leadership will become a gallop as the party tries to avert the prospect of a damaging number of its traditional core support migrating to UKIP. Where the majority of Labour members both tolerated and, on occasions, actively supported the ‘modernisation’ and re-branding of their party (as New Labour) under Tony Blair in the mid-1990s, taking them from electoral also-rans to double landslide election victors, the Conservatives loath and detest Cameron’s attempts to make the party electable again, following 13 years of Labour rule and a decade or more of their own party being run by unelectable balding men tainted by their association with either the dog end of Thatcherism and/or the John Major government of 1992-97, which limped through most of its term of office as a lame duck administration.
So much do disaffected Conservatives dislike Cameron that come the General Election many may be prepared to cast their vote in a manner that allows Labour, albeit perhaps in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, to regain power. With delicious irony, many of those same disaffected Tories spurned the chance to support the Single Transferable Vote option in the 2011 referendum, as under Britain’s First Past The Post voting system, UKIP are very unlikely to return more than the odd MP (sic) to Westminster.
Such a split in the Centre-Right/Right vote is unknown in British politics, although it has been so for the Left since the emergence of Labour as a credible political force around a century ago. UKIP’s lazy nationalism is attractive to some Labour voters too, while the ‘none of the above’ novelty aspect of UKIP’s appeal, littered as its’ rhetoric is with being outside of the political elite, has undoubtedly increased their popularity further. Despite both Cameron and UKIP leader Nigel Farage being publicly educated, wealthy toffs, Farage easily pulls off the trick of appearing as a man of the people politician where Cameron fails abysmally, Farage no doubt greatly assisted by his success in business and willingness to be photographed with a fag and a pint – not forgetting the easy ride given him by much of the mainstream media.
Thus for the Conservatives the message is clear: Send for Boris.
While in some senses UKIP represent a problem for Labour and their still far from convincing leader Ed Miliband, in many ways Labour’s response should probably be to let this fissure in right wing politics play out, asserting themselves as a centre-left alternative (and drop the ‘one nation’ nonsense, which they, and Britain, clearly are not). By creating a home for disgruntled Liberal Democrats, and others who have long hankered for a Labour manifesto not shaped by a perceived need to capture Conservative votes, the roughly 45% of the electorate whose natural sympathies are centre-left, might find that at last there is something distinctive on offer. If this happened then mainstream political debate would become a good deal more invigorating and representative of how people really think – but don’t hold your breath.