I haven’t written about UKIP before, even though they represent currents of thought I have been writing about for years, because, well, they’ve got no MPs, no councils and represent no real chance of forming a government. A couple of things made me look up. First was this piece by George Eaton. In it Eaton summarises opinion polls: ‘The Conservatives are four points behind on 25 per cent, UKIP are on a remarkable 23 per cent and the Lib Dems are on 14 per cent’.
Whoah. Fucking hell. 23 per cent? And, like, 117 council seats?
UKIP have been around for years of course, but they used to be primarily an anti-EU party and did badly because they only appealed to a certain kind of EU nut. Now, Farage has realised that if he realigns UKIP into an anti immigration party he can appeal to a much larger proportion of nuts from across the political spectrum. UKIP’s local manifesto focuses almost entirely on immigration – despite the fact that immigration is something which local authorities can do little or nothing about. UKIP put a poster up in my old stomping ground of Levenshulme, saying ‘Stop open door EU immigration - enough’s enough.’ I support their right to free expression, UKIP should be able to advertise where it likes, but if you know the area, it’s a real slap in the face for Levenshulme’s Asians. Friends of mine from the locality petitioned ClearChannel. They were trolled on the internet and bullied by UKIP supporters. We’re not supposed to say that criticism of immigration is racist. But the BNP vote collapsed this week. Who could be taking all their support?
But UKIP are more than a far right party. Mainstream politicians have spent weeks grappling with the phenomenon. They set up focus groups of UKIP supporters to discover what exactly is peeling off mainstream support - sessions that, by all accounts, went like a junkercrat dinner party in late 1920s Berlin. The commentator Andrew Rawnsley has an anecdote that is worth thousands of words’ analysis:
One senior party strategist says he listened in some wonderment as his focus group of Ukip voters spent an entire 90-minute session wailing and gnashing their teeth about the state of Britain. Not a good word did they have to say about the country today. At the end of the session, he thanked them for their time, and said he had one more question. Was there anything about Britain that made them feel proud? There was a silence. Then one man leant forward and said: ‘The past.’ The rest of the group nodded in agreement.
Rawnsley goes on to say that ‘A Ukip vote is not mainly, if at all, about making a choice based on an assessment of policy.’ In the run up to the local elections spin doctors planted stories about the more deranged of UKIP’s candidate base. The public did not care. Mainstream politicians point out time and again that UKIP’s manifesto makes no sense. UKIP are offering free money for everyone and to clear the deficit. Any mainstream politician would be slaughtered for such unrealistic promises. The public do not care. Professional politicos need to realise that we are not dealing here with rational demands, it cannot be said enough: we are dealing with a miserable embittered shriek of self pity and unfocused rage. It’s not fair! Why doesn’t the world revolve around me? These are the questions that the nation wants answered.
Over at Telegraph Blogs, Dan Hodges writes that UKIP’s victory smashes the myth of a progressive majority in this country. He says, ‘Since 2010 Labour has moved Left, anticipating it would be inundated by people seeking sanctuary from the evils of austerity. They’re not coming. Those angered by the Coalition are knocking on Nigel Farage’s door, not Ed Miliband’s.’ In fact, there are plenty of progressives in this country. They’re just not in politics. As I’ve argued recently, British politics is not a place for reasonable people anymore. Smart progressives who want to make a difference don’t go into politics, they go into public policy or advocacy or journalism or law or the police or the Royal Marines. Because smart people are leaving politics, the field is left clear for maniacs, illiterates, thieves, neo-Nazis and toytown power merchants. This is particularly true at local level.
And it’s not true, by the way, that UKIP represent an ‘anti-politics party’. UKIP are more pro politics than anyone. They encourage huge unrealistic expectations of what politics can deliver. Vote for me and I’ll give you everything you want or need, your darkest fear, your fondest dream.
A point James Bloodworth makes is UKIP’s age profile. James points to a survey that claims UKIP’s support as 43% over 65 and just 8% from people under 35. James even says that ‘Such are the demographics of the Ukip vote that many who have supported them in this week’s local elections will actually be dead by the time the 2015 election comes around.’ Obsession with immigration, in my experience, chimes with that – it tends to be a consuming concern for people over forty. I’m not saying young people are not critical of mass immigration, but they do not obsess over it in the way of the old. Immigration is the fixation of the 1950s-1970s generation that had the world handed to them on a plate and never sacrificed anything and bankrupted the country and now have nothing to offer except self pity. ‘The world was a great place when I was young’ - that’s their battle cry. What they mean, of course, is: ‘The world was a great place because I was young.’
A significant minority of voters who hate everything about this country except the past. It’s a depressing vision – but one that we now have to confront. I used to think UKIP would tear the political right in two and the left would take advantage. That hasn’t happened. Labour’s performance in the locals was appalling compared to where they should be, while even the Cameron brand of liberal conservatism has almost completely vanished. Because the mainstream is scrambling to regain UKIP support, we could effectively be giving UKIP a rolling veto over mainstream policy. A nightmare Knesset scenario.
Government by local referenda. Will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights?