No wonder he’s rubbing his hands in glee: Nigel Farage’s UKIP has upset the UK political applecart, leaving the parties of government royally shafted. But is this just a protest vote and will all three mainstream parties act on the enormous hint they’ve just been given?
Does anybody else think this year’s local elections have been the most interesting in living memory?
And it’s all down to UKIP, the little party of “loonies, fruitcakes and closet racists” that could.
Don’t get me wrong – the UK Independence Party represents a threat to good government and nobody in their right mind should be voting for it, but the fact is that people are. UKIP has attracted protest votes from all ends of the political spectrum.
This is the heart of the matter: Disaffected voters – not just Conservatives, but former Labour supporters and Liberal Democrats – have all supported UKIP because it seems to be the largest platform for dissent. They don’t agree with all of UKIP’s policies – in fact, they probably don’t know many, beyond the anti-EU, anti-immigration stance – they just want to register their extreme distrust of the major parties, in their current form.
From the results so far, that distrust is now the main influence on the British political landscape, with the support of around a quarter of all UK voters. People aren’t voting for any party because they approve of its policies; they are voting against parties because of the policies they refuse to give up.
I include Labour in this, even though I’m a Labour member. My party’s attitude to social security (welfare if that’s what you prefer) is an unmitigated calamity. Labour must scrap its current policy and sack its current team, if it is to have a hope of regaining the votes it has lost to UKIP. Then it must build a new policy, based on preventing the causes of unemployment, work-related sickness and disability. The private firms currently infesting the Department for Work and Pensions – Unum, Atos, and whoever else is lurking in there – must be ejected and forbidden from returning because their advice is self-profiting gubbins (and when I say gubbins, I mean for you to insert the cussword of your choice).
With regard to Europe, it is clear that British people want a new settlement with the Union. The people consider European laws to be unreasonably restrictive, and wonder why we allow so many restrictions and regulations into our country from Brussels. Personally, I don’t agree that we should leave the Union altogether – but we absolutely must reassert our sovereignty, and the best way to do that is with a very short word: “No”.
The immigration issue could be tackled very simply. Ask yourself: Would you travel abroad and try to live in a country where you did not have a job, had nowhere to call a home and couldn’t even speak the language? I wouldn’t. But that is the perception of what immigrants from the European Union are doing. Why not just install a very simple rule on anyone who wants to come into the UK to live – that they must have work waiting for them here, and be coming into the country to take up that job. Employers would arrange work permits for these foreign nationals and a system of checks could be employed to ensure that they adhere to the rules. The principle of free movement would be honoured – the difference is that people would be freely moving here for a demonstrable reason.
Let’s have a look at the collapse of the Liberal Democrats.
The South Shields by-election result was no surprise to anyone: Labour held it with an overall majority – that’s more than half the turnout. UKIP came second – that protest vote showing itself strongly in a Parliamentary election – and the Conservatives third. Note that their combined vote would not have toppled the Labour candidate, as it would have toppled the Liberal Democrat in Eastleigh, earlier this year.
And what of the Liberal Democrats? They came seventh, below the BNP and above the Monster Raving Loony Party, with just 352 votes – that’s 1.4 per cent of the turnout and yes, they lost their deposit. On hearing the news last night, I tweeted: “It’s a travesty – the Loonies should demand a recount!”
In the councils, the Lib Dems have also lost support. The current BBC graph, showing the situation after eight councils (of 34) declared, shows that they have lost 15 councillors so far. Expect that number to escalate!
But the real losers of the night are the Conservatives. They were never going to take South Shields, but they managed only one-sixth of Labour’s vote, and less than half of the UKIP turnout. In the councils, they’re 66 members down already and have lost overall control of two authorities.
And they’re panicking. One sign of this was the joyous response from Conservative Central Office to a win at Witney, in the Prime Minister’s constituency. The tweet ran: “Well done Witney @Conservatives – I see you got a swing from Labour & and increased majority in Witney East versus 2011. Well done!” Straw-clutching at its finest.
But that won’t save them from the wrath of their own members – and the knives are already out and sharp. Alexis McEvoy, former Conservative Hampshire county councillor, wrote in the Telegraph: “There is a problem with the people at the top of our political parties. They just don’t listen. They don’t listen to ordinary people or our concerns.
“David Cameron says he’ll have a referendum, but no-one believes a word he says. I don’t believe a word he says, and I’m a lifelong Conservative.
“We stood up for things in the past. We don’t stand up for anything any more.”
Tory MP Sir Gerald Howarth, on the BBC’s live blog: “I think our priorities have to change.”
That goes for all the main parties.