Published:


George
Freeman is Member
of Parliament for Mid-Norfolk, founder
of Mind The Gap and the Positive
Politics!
campaign.  Follow George on Twitter.


Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 10.33.18My
constituency of Mid Norfolk is seriously small 'c' Conservative country.  From time on the doorsteps in the last month
with local councillors and candidates, it is clear that UKIPs message is resonating
loudly with bedrock Conservatives. Far from chiming just with extremists or
closet racists or BMP sympathisers – who they clearly are also picking up –
Nigel Farage's message is also chiming with decent mainstream Conservatives who
have traditionally been the bedrock of the Conservative Party. Feedback from
polling stations last night, last night's by-election result from South Shields, and early returns from Essex and
other rural counties suggest a low turnout – and that a strong UKIP surge is
producing a serious breakthrough.  What's
going on?  How to respond?

It's
clear to me from listening to UKIP 'swingers' that this UKIP surge is much more
than just a mid-term protest vote. It's about much more than a deep and growing
concern about the failures of the European project. And it's about much more than a single
issue protest about uncontrolled immigration. Its also clear that it is NOT a
sign of a hardening of voter opinion to the Right, or a call for more
red-blooded right wing policies.  Let's
hope the Red Eds mistakenly use UKIP's land- grab of Labour voters as a sign that
they need to lurch left, but let's not make the same mistake ourselves and
lurch backwards to some mythical right-wing programme which some suggest would
sweep us to a majority if we would only have the courage to promise it.  We need courage, for sure – but it's the
courage to listen to some tough love from critical friends, and try and
understand what lies beneath Farage's appeal.

We need
to be clear who UKIP are appealing to and why. It isn't just traditional
Conservative voters like those listed above. 
It also Old Labour core voters: blue collar, manual and
traditional-values trade 'Working Mans Club' Labour.  It's also groups that mainstream parties have
struggled to connect with: the young, first time voters; the concerned but
apolitical mothers who so often deal in the family with the bread and butter
social issues of childcare, education, health, and care, and whose concern used
often to express itself as support for those nice Lib Dems Pre-Coalition.


If enough
UKIP candidates are elected to office, it might become obvious to people why it is not a serious party of Government, and why a number of its members are
not fit to hold public office. But that is for the public to see and decide for
themselves.  We should resist screaming
foul, and declaring their takeover of local council seats – and maybe even
control of councils – a travesty of democracy. 
It will be a tragedy if another tranche of excellent Conservative
Councillors pay the price on the frontline for troubles in London, but we owe
it to them, too, to understand what is really going on.

So what
is behind the UKIP appeal?  I believe it
is an expression of something much deeper than the policies it is championing
that binds them together.  Something that
has been incubating over the last decade. A deep, inchoate sense of betrayal by
ordinary mainstream British voters that the political establishment in London,
not just Europe, has been looking after itself more than the people who
put it there. A deep sense that, in politics, banking, the media, and seemingly
across the board of modern Britain, the elites at the top have been spending
too much time enjoying each other's company, at the expense of looking after
those at the bottom of the pyramid that put them there.  It's fundamentally about values, rather than
policies. The British people are developing a deep, visceral but quiet anger at what is coming to
be seen as the betrayal of ordinary people – and the values they expect and
aspire to be governed through – by increasingly unaccountable elites.

This is
the new dividing line of British politics, and we can and must be the right
side of it. To do so our new generation needs to draw on and fuse different
strands of Conservative thinking. Burke's 'Little Platoons'. The values of Margaret
Thatcher's nonconformist, small town, small business common sense Conservatism of the grass roots that
we rediscovered around her inspirational funeral last month. John Major's quiet
decency. IDS's anger at the betrayal of the most vulnerable in our society by
the people who could and should do most for them. And an older set of more
patrician Conservative values around the importance of responsibility, duty,
philanthropy, and the obligations of the
most privileged to the most vulnerable which underpin any decent society.

This isn't about leadership. The reason David
Cameron's leadership was so electrifying was his ability to insist we talk
about and tackle this public concern at our 'broken society, politics and economy'
and be the change in a radical and reforming Government. I believe our public
spending constraints and radical reforms of welfare, education and public
services are resonating.  What's missing
is a clear communication of our values.

Conservative
values are, and have always been, the glue that binds the Conservative Party
together and explains its historic connection with the British electorate. The
left will seize on this narrative of 'unaccountable elites', and claim that it
enforces the legitimacy of the Labour Party as the Party of renewal. We must
remind the electorate that it was under New Labour that institutional
irresponsibility of office and contempt for those at the bottom – remember Cool
Brittania and Mandelson professing to be "profoundly relaxed" about the filthy
rich? – became a cultural phenomena. It was under New Labour that the state embarked on a historic con-trick to bribe the
electorate with a borrowed boom based on cheap credit, mass immigration, and an
explosion of Government spending. New Labour embodied the new unaccountability
of the elites and we should never let them forget it.

The
business of Government – compounded tenfold as we tackle the scale of the
legacy of debt and disillusionment incubated to criminal proportions under New
Labour – distracts from the business of door knocking. The message from this
election is that we must never forget who and what we are in Government
for. The people who put us there. What they expect
and deserve. And the values that unite them and us. 

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