“Fruitcakes and loons”. That is how David Cameron described the United Kingdom Independence Party, when he became Prime Minster in 2010. That could prove to be a dreadful strategic mistake, as he prepares for the next General election, in 2015. Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, the fruitcakes are on the rise.
By labelling UKIP also as “closet racists” Mr Cameron is in danger of insulting millions of small “c” Conservatives who have deserted his party over controversial issues such as Immigration, Europe and Same Sex Marriage.
The recent local UK and European elections have signaled a significant moment in British politics. Ukip claimed 150 Council seats nationwide and triumphed over the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour in the European polls. I personally think Ukip are scaremongers. But there is no doubt they tapped into a deep concern over mass immigration, with its impact on housing, hospitals and schools. They have also successfully portrayed the European parliament as bloated, unaccountable and riding rough shod over our sovereignty.
But what is Ukip? A substantial, credible political force? Or a one-man band dancing to the drum beat of new Farage Garage music? In truth, Ukip seems to be bereft of any detailed policies and has more than its fair share of “unsavory” candidates. One Ukip candidate advised black Comedian Lenny Henry to go and live in “a black country”. The irony is that Mr. Henry is from the “Black Country” …. Dudley! My children are mixed race…so which part of them should leave?
My main concern about Ukip is that it could set community against community. We are the United Kingdom, where we should be building bridges, not walls between the various racial and cultural groups. We are still going through the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and Ukip have tapped into that human inclination to play the “Blame Game,” pointing the finger at immigrants and Europe for our problems, especially unemployment. Their effectiveness is the more so because of the charisma of their leader, Nigel Farage. There are politicians who are “Velcro” in that everything negative sticks to them, even when their intentions are good. Then there are politicians who are Teflon, in that nothing negative seems to stick to them. Their gaffes and flaws just bounce off them. Farage is definitely non-stick Teflon… at least for now. He has managed to create his image as one of a political “outsider”, a “man of the people”, who is passionately anti-Europe, who would have us withdraw from its institutions. The reality he is an ex-public school educated former City trader, of French and German ancestry, married to a German and who has been a Member of the European Parliament for 15 years. He is a smoker and likes his pint. The media loves characters and they certainly have one in this former Tory member and son of a stockbroker named Guy Justus Oscar Farage.
It is not only Cameron who should worry about the Ukip threat. They were once seen as a party of the Shires, of disaffected Tories. But their appeal has broadened. It is clear that many working class Labour supporters have also taken their votes to Ukip. It seized dozens of seats in Labour as well as Tory strongholds. Significant inroads were made in Essex, Lincolnshire and even Sunderland. But the biggest losers have been the Liberal Democrats. They were once the convenient party of protest. But now they are part of a Coalition Government and Ukip have replaced them as the party to lodge protest against a Government, which has had to dispense unpleasant medicine to cure our economic ills. The Liberal Democrats lost more than 270 seats and two key councils. They are facing electoral disaster in 2015, in the General Election.
Mr. Cameron has rejected calls from some of his own MPs to form a pact with Ukip. Personally I am relieved. A pact with Ukip could only push the Tories further right wing, which cannot be good for modern, multi-racial, multi-cultural Britain. It is significant that Ukip’s anti-immigrant, anti-European stance strikes no chord in ethnically diverse, metropolitan London.
But the mainstream parties have to decide how to deal with the Ukip problem. Ignoring them, as Labour have done, is not the answer. Demonising them, as the Tories, have done is even worse. Farage has been able to feed off the insults to portray himself and his supporters as “victims” of the political elite. Cameron stresses that the Conservatives are the only major party offering an in-out referendum on the European Union. But as the recent local and European elections have shown, that will not be enough in 2015. The Conservatives need to demonstrate that they are reforming the welfare state, NHS, reclaiming power from Europe and getting to grips with EU immigration. It could also win much support by embarking on a house building programme, which successive governments have failed to do.
Ukip was founded in 1993 as an obscure anti-federalist pressure group. For years it struggled to get attention. Mr. Farage has managed to transform it into a populist anti-establishment party. But we must remember that Ukip still controls no Councils and have no MPs, as yet. Apart from its leader, no other member of Ukip has a national profile. But the Ukip “fruit cake” is rising. It is now an established part of the political cuisine. Mr. Farage announced recently, “There are areas of the country where now we have got an imprint in local government. This party is going to break through into the Westminster parliament next year”. It is predicted that Ukip could win at least 10 per cent of the vote at next year’s General Election. But how other parties deal with this increasing electoral threat will determine whether Mr. Farage and his party continue to grow in influence or remain half baked.