Nigel Farage paints himself as a revolutionary, but where is his vision? Where is the consideration of some of the most pressing challenges of our time and the visionary leadership needed to overcome them in order to drive us toward an inspirational picture of a more optimistic future?
It is nowhere. Instead Farage hides behind the politics of pessimism. He commands not a people, but a mob.
Nigel’s Britain is introverted, intolerant, and isolated. We are a people who shun the world and turn our backs on its opportunities. We are a nation of pessimists, always looking behind us for Britain’s Golden Age. Foreign policy consists of closing our eyes to challenges like IS, conducting a rousing chorus of Rule Britannia, and waving the Union flag as if this were the answer to our problems. It is not.
Undeniably, Nigel’s Britain has some appeal. It has kept him his core vote, absorbed the vote of the BNP, picked off the disenchanted few in the main parties and won him the anti-politics vote that traditionally found its ‘third party’ home in the Lib Dems. This, combined with the rump Liberal vote, is certainly squeezing the two main parties, but to make further encroachment, UKIP must find broader appeal.
The problem with Nigel’s Britain is that it is not ours. Sorry, Nigel, but the evidence shows that Britain is not the intolerant, pessimistic, and powerless nation you’d like us to be.
The onward march of UKIP is dependent on a pessimistic and dejected majority that has supposedly (on the UKIP narrative) finally broken free of its shackles in the last few years to emerge defiant. Evidence, taken from the Legatum Prosperity Index and based on large scale national polling, can illuminate the changes in British opinion that may mark the emergent rumblings of Nigel’s revolution. Be it intolerance, pessimism, distrust of the system, or insecurity, what do we find?
The most obvious one is immigration. Have we over the last few years grown increasingly intolerant of immigrants and minorities? No. Our tolerance towards immigrants and minorities has not changed over the last 6 years, and as a nation our tolerance is high (81 per cent and 87 per cent respectively).
Have we grown less trusting of one another? No. Our trust in society has not changed (35 per cent).
Do we feel more unsafe of late? No. We feel safer. In 2009, 66 per cent of us felt safe walking home alone at night. Today that is 74 per cent.
Have we recently had greater experience of crime? No. Reports of being a victim of assault or having had property stolen have also fallen. And before anyone cries that it is actually levels of reporting that have fallen rather than crime itself, these are not statistics from the police, but straight from the British public.
Are we growing disillusioned with the government’s approach to some of the most important issues? No. People are more satisfied with the government’s more recent efforts to address poverty (53 per cent) than they were in 2009 (49 per cent).
Are we disengaged? No, 24 per cent reported having voiced a concern to an elected official in 2008. Today it has hardly changed at 25 per cent.
Are we growing less confident in our democratic system? No. 65 per cent of us expressed confidence in 2009 and 64 per cent today, a change well within the poll’s margin of error. In the same period, approval of our court system has risen from 62 per cent to 69 per cent.
Perhaps opportunity is the rallying cry to join Nigel’s revolution? Except that perceptions of opportunity, measured by the numbers responding positively to the question ‘do you think working hard in the UK can get you ahead?’ rose from 78 per cent in 2009 to 84 per cent. Economic development has grown more, not less, equal since the election.
Whilst just 7.6 per cent of us thought it in 2009 a good time to find a job, that has now more than doubled to 18 per cent. We are not exactly the most cheerful people (for that we would have to go and live in Laos or Uzbekistan) but that is more a function of the global economic turmoil. Even Australia and New Zealand, largely untouched by the storm that blew through Europe, only have job optimism in the 30s. We are more optimistic than other European countries like the Netherlands and France.
None of the changes you would expect to find on the eve of revolution are there. Our country is simply not the country UKIP wish us to be.
It is looking likely that Farage will soon have his second MP, perhaps cementing his as the new third party in British politics. If that is what is truly happening, then it is to be expected that they will pick up seats, just as there are Liberal MPs in constituencies that each main party has long maintained ‘should be theirs’. Canvassing on the doorstep, we treat each UKIP return with surprise without ever really stopping to think how often we would find a Liberal voter. Not anymore.
Look closer at society however, and the limits of UKIP’s appeal can be seen. This is not revolution, but realignment. Our views have not changed drastically in the last five years. We are no more intolerant or disenchanted than we have ever been. UKIP’s success has been to give that existing disenchantment, previously dispersed across multiple parties, a single voice. The resulting amplification of dissent has been mistaken for its multiplication.
UKIP’s appeal will remain confined until they shun the politics of pessimism. We are not as pessimistic as we are made out to be, as UKIP need us to be. When Farage finds a positive, optimistic, and nuanced political narrative that takes seriously the realities of globalisation, that is the time to worry. Whether he can do so without losing the anti-politics vote that has carried him this far will prove to be one of the most interesting questions of the next parliament.