UKIP won 27 per cent of the vote in the European Elections and about 18 per cent in last week’s local contests. They won 3 per cent at the last general election. How much will they win next year? I reckon at least 6 per cent – and anything like 8 per cent makes it difficult for the Tories to win a majority.
We know UKIP’s core vote is largely an ex-Tory phenomenon. My fear is that UKIP may now be a permanent feature of the political landscape. They’re now much more than a Eurosceptic movement. They are the most working class of Britain’s main parties. They are the representative of the people against the political class (even though Mr Farage is, as David Cameron says, a “consummate politician” and Neil “Tatton” Hamilton is one of their leading spokespeople).
Nigel Farage is talking about spending the next few months putting together a shadow cabinet of his most talented members (and, yes, there are a few) to prove UKIP isn’t a one man band. The Observer reports that UKIP will target about twenty seats. It now has a good number of councillors, MEPs, members and donors to build a credible machine in those target seats.
David Cameron has a year to kill UKIP off – or allow some local accommodations. Otherwise “The Man Who Divided The Eurosceptic Right” will be carved on his political gravestone. In my list of the ten creators of UKIP he’s currently number one. Can he now become its destroyer?
In Ascending Order of Potency: The Ten Creators of UKIP
- The Daily Express. UKIP has suffered from a lot of hostility from what we once called Fleet Street (although it may also have sometimes thrived on it in a Millwallian “Everyone Hates Us, We Don’t Care” kind of way) but it always had The Express. The newspaper began campaigning for Britain to leave the EU a few years ago and gave Nigel Farage a fair wind on an almost daily basis on its pages. It often felt like it was performing the job that the “Torygraph” of yesteryear performed for the Conservative Party. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that Patrick O’Flynn, now a UKIP MEP and comms chief to Mr Farage, was its chief political commentator during that period.
- Political Class Consensualism. Immigration and Europe are the most important issues driving UKIP. Expenses, political aloofness and broken promises are the less tangible drivers. But there are also the issues where all of the parties agree. The war in Afghanistan. The aid budget. Higher energy prices to combat climate change. UKIP do well when they’re seen to oppose the “LibLabCon”.
- Cameron’s pollsters. They should have provided him with an early warning that his Right-leaning voters were unhappy. They didn’t. Just as they missed the weakness of his 2010 campaign messages they never saw the revolt coming (I know this because they kept telling me there wasn’t a problem). Lynton Crosby did but the “Wizard of Oz” only arrived after the UKIP genie had escaped the bottle. It’s now very hard to put it back.
- Poor internal Tory democracy. The Tea Party has grown, thrived and retreated (a bit) within America’s Republican Party. It didn’t set up on its own because internal Republican Party democracy was strong enough for Tea Partiers to feel they could oust “RINOs” (Republicans In Name Only) who supported big government and “un-American” values. This has meant that the GOP has been through a messy time but the two party system has been retained. There has been no new Ross Perot. The internal battles have forced the Republican establishment to listen to the casualties of the Global Financial Crash and Tea Partiers – by overreaching in some primary deselection battles – have learnt to compromise a little. I recommend Ross Douthat’s op-ed on the latest state of the Tea Party in Sunday’s New York Times.
- Ed Miliband. It’s unfair to blame the current Labour leader for all of the Labour Party’s working class problem but many UKIP voters look at him and his fellow achingly cool modern Labourites (yes, Chuka, I’m thinking of you) and see “guacamole-dipping, skinny latte-sipping effete types”. Those aren’t my words, they’re the words of Labour MP Simon Danczuk in the Mail on Sunday. A Labour Party led by former postie Alan Johnson, for example, might have connected with blue collar Britain and its values but Mr Miliband struggles to. Mr Miliband thinks he can win over the working classes with endless economic pledges (more government spending, rent controls, energy price freezes, higher taxes on the wealthy). Putting aside for the moment that there’s still a very big deficit he fails to understand the cultural gap between Miliband’s Labour Party and its heartland voters. On integration of immigrants. On Islamification. On welfare. On trusting the people in a referendum on Europe. UKIP isn’t just an economic phenomenon but a cultural revolt too.
- Illiberal liberals. I support gay marriage (shamefully, I was resistant to homosexual equality but now have the zeal of a convert) but, but, but I don’t think most traditionalists are homophobes. I think smart immigration benefits Britain but net immigration of 200,000 per year has never been endorsed by Britain’s voters. It’s too much. Have you seen house prices? I want British firms to have to invest in British workers and not always take the easy way out in employing people from abroad. However else are we going to cap the welfare bill for the working age population? Too many self-styled liberals don’t face up to these tough questions. They’re too busy shouting “bigot”, “racist” and “inadequate” at UKIP’s supporters. They still are. Too many right-of-centre commentators still want Cameron to declare war on UKIP voters and to deny that issues like immigration matter. They accuse UKIP voters of being hateful when, in reality, it is they who are hateful of UKIP voters and UKIP voters’ concerns.
- Nick Clegg. If he hadn’t been bound by Coalition government David Cameron might have course corrected earlier. We would certainly have an EU referendum law on the statute book by now. Britain would be closer to net immigration of under 100,000 (although we’ll need to leave the EU or radically reform freedom of movement to deliver it). We would also have a Deputy PM who hadn’t broken his great promise to abolish tuition fees. One of the things powering UKIP is the sense that “LibLabCon” politicians can’t be trusted. Nick Clegg epitomises the political class for many Ukippers. Oh, and the Lib Dem leader’s debates with Mr Farage. I think we can all agree that Mr F bested Mr C and gave him extra momentum.
- The Global Financial Crash. Britain is not the only country to have seen a right-wing populist movement emerge. America has had its Tea Party revolt. Parties much less savoury than UKIP did well in the latest European elections. The GFC squeezed the incomes of the poor and has produced resentment towards immigrants, bankers, welfare claimants and spending on foreign aid. Out of the Eurozone and with more flexible labour markets Britain has not suffered the chronic youth unemployment rates of much of the continent but high rents, personal indebtedness and squeezed disposable incomes have created the space for a protest movement.
- Nigel Farage. Like Boris Johnson and Alex Salmond, UKIP’s leader possesses a personal warmth that lifts his party to a different level. People feel he gives them straight answers. His negative ratings climbed during the last month but despite his private education, City background and long stint as an MEP a lot of voters still see him as one of them. It’s quite a trick.
- David Cameron. In describing David Cameron’s contribution I can only repeat what I wrote for The Times in May 2013:
“Spend most of your time as Tory leader ignoring the issue that matters most to your activist members: Europe. Launch your bid to be leader by promising to introduce a tax allowance for married couples and then, once you’ve won power, fail to deliver that pledge at four successive Budgets. Tell parents that they can set up any school they want as long as it’s not the one they most want, a grammar school. Stop Gordon Brown holding a honeymoon election in 2007 by promising to abolish inheritance tax but then put it up in office. Spend the general election campaign talking about an issue that no one understands — the Big Society — and don’t talk about immigration, an issue that three-quarters of voters do care about. Subsidise expensive renewable energies at a time when families are struggling to pay their electricity bills. Form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats even though 80 per cent of your members want you to lead a minority government. Promise not to reorganise the NHS, then reorganise it anyway. Oppose press regulation but then embrace it. Keep pledging to tackle European human rights laws but do nothing when Abu Qatada proves again and again that Britain is run by inventive lawyers rather than democratically-drafted laws. Insist that you want to reach out to northern and poorer parts of Britain but stuff your Downing Street operation with southern chums who attended the same elite private schools as you. And, just for good measure, insult people who normally vote for your party as clowns, fruitcakes and closet racists.”
David Cameron is in a much better place now to woo UKIP voters with his In/Out pledge, his tougher rhetoric on immigration and his concern to create a Toryism that is Sun and Mail-friendly rather than Guardian and Lib Dem-friendly. But which is the real Cameron? The one we have now or the one we had from 2005 until about eighteen months ago?
P.S. Have I missed any big factors off my list?