Before I begin, it isn’t me. I’m not talking to UKIP.
As we all head back to London for the start of a new Parliamentary session, the welcoming committee is a depressing one for Cameron, and with good reason. There are MPs who are indeed talking to UKIP, and they appear to be from the ‘younger generation’ of MPs, which will worry Cameron considerably. I think I have a clear idea of who one is and he certainly isn’t a usual suspect.
As Tim, noted in his Guardian column on Friday, the leadership of the party has made one strategic mistake after another, and the patience of many MPs has worn thin.
A major fissure appeared in the collective loyalty of MPs during the weekend following the budget when for the first time, they began to feel a verbal backlash in their respective constituencies. Whether it was as a result of granny tax, pasty tax, or child benefit cliff edges, suddenly being a new Conservative MP didn’t feel as great as it had for the last couple of years.
It is a difficult moment when people stop patting you on the back and telling you how well you did to get elected and start doubting the policies of the government you represent.
It is even harder for the most loyal of MPs who articulate absolute adherence to Cameron on the outside, whilst fully aware that there has been one major mistake after another – and now they have to justify it to their local associations and the very people who helped put them into Parliament.
This scenario creates an inner personal conflict which boils into a steaming resentment, which will eventually erupt.
The errors began before the election (we should have spotted the signs) when Cameron agreed to the leadership debates and then ran the election campaign on a Big Society platform which hadn’t even been poll-tested. Both of those bad judgments possibly robbed us of the majority we desperately needed and, more importantly, the country deserved.
The next major error was to agree to govern in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
The right decision would undoubtedly have been to govern with a minority government until October 2010.
Given the economic mess we were in and the size of the deficit in May 2010, the conditions were begging for that decision to be made.
Nothing would have been easier than to go back to the country in October 2010 and explain the true mess the party had inherited. Nothing would have been more justified than telling the electorate the country needed a stronger government, with a larger public mandate in order to take the necessary decisions to repair the damage left by Labour.
Cameron could have explained to the electorate that a majority government was a ‘must have’ for the sake of the country and they would have listened.
The fact that an incoming Government never truly gets to see the books until it takes possession of Number 11, along with the note from Liam Byrne announcing that all the money had been spent, would have been enough to convince the electorate that this was no time for protest votes. No time for minority parties who can only command a nine percent share of the vote. No time for sitting at home on hands and procrastinating. In October 2010, every citizen would have been very much aware of their own responsibility in electing a strong government. I believe the British people are at their best when facing adversity and would have risen to this challenge and elected a majority Conservative government.
Market volatility couldn’t have been any worse for us than in May 2010. An indication that there would be another election in the autumn which would almost certainly have refined voting intentions towards one of the two main parties may possibly even have contributed to stabilising the markets over the summer period, until the second election was called.
But, thanks to a bad decision, we will never know.
The tendency of Cameron to roll to the left in every decision he takes is not done just to please the Liberal Democrats, although there is far too much of that. Cameron describes himself as a social liberal. The problem is that most of the sixty five million British voters aren’t. You would walk the streets of Essex or Yorkshire for a long time before you found a voter who described himself as such. The Liberal Democrats are an out and proud fully declared socially liberal party and only nine percent of the population voted for them, shouldn’t that tell us something? I will concede that the people in Cameron’s social circle may well be socially liberal. Social liberalism has always been an indulgence of the wealthy. The people who can afford to enjoy liberalism whilst protecting their own children from the societal influences of such by sending them to the most expensive schools. In addition to the majority of the British public being far from social liberals, they also aren’t stupid. They know that each family struggles financially whilst we send a billion of our hard earned cash to Europe each year.
They know that gay marriage is a side issue which many gay couples living outside of London or bohemian Brighton (sorry Graeme) have no interest in and as one gay couple articulated to me in my constituency, “we wish Cameron and others would just shut the **** up and leave us alone in our civil partnership”. This from a couple who happily contribute to their local community and resent their relationship becoming a focus point for discussion as they queue for fish and chips and get on with their lives. Not all gay couples live in the south of England.
And that is just about what everyone is doing, getting on with their busy lives and surviving to do too much about any of the disconnect they feel, however, suddenly a new dynamic has entered the political arena and penetrated the chatter bubble of everyone’s daily lives.
UKIP are gathering support and are now on an equal pegging with the Liberal Democrats polling on eleven percent. They are doing so because the British taxpayer no longer wants to bail out basket-case, southern European countries. Voters are very well aware of the fact that people living in the booming economies of the far East are having it much better than we are, and want to know why we aren’t looking East to trade instead of Europe.
In my village alone, two graduates are leaving to work in Dubai and Singapore this September, and my hairdresser is off to Abu Dhabi. I don’t live in London where this isn’t so uncommon. Suddenly, you can’t move before you hear of a young person fleeing the shores. Are we becoming the Eire of yesteryear? A group of twenty-five year olds told me this week ‘the UK, London, Europe, it’s all so tired, such a mess, the developing countries is where it’s happening’.
And, whilst all this is taking place, Cameron and Osborne make one bad judgment call after another. Instead of speaking the language of the young and emulating their observations and intentions, they talk of defending the Eurozone, supporting the ECHR, spinning the same old tired Euro deal. The most embarrassing recent error has to have been Cameron’s Easter speech in which he called for all Christians to fight back for the right to wear a cross and chain at work, at the same time that his Ministers wrote to the ECHR to argue that Christians had no right to wear a cross and chain and to not support the cases before the court.
Do the government really think the electorate don’t notice this crass incoherence and incompetence? The electorate always seem willing to forgive Labour for such mistakes, as though messing up is somehow expected. They are far less forgiving of a Conservative government, as though they expect far better.
Is it any wonder Conservative MPs are wondering what to do? Where to go?
It would take only two MPs to cross the floor to give UKIP the publicity and coverage it needs to harness public disquiet and dissatisfaction with Cameron and the other main parties.
Two MPs to uplift UKIP to the centre stage.
Two MPs to turbo-charge a party into the credible political arena of the House of Commons.
Two MPs to transform the electoral opportunities of UKIP at the next general election by publicising and highlighting a silo for a protest vote which is not the Liberal Democrats.
And if it happens, if two MPs do cross the floor, if UKIP rob us of seats and destroy our chances in the marginals, if we lose to Labour at the next General Election because UKIP take a substantial share of the vote, there are just two men to thank for a repetitive string of bad decisions which led us there.
UKIP are the new Liberal Democrats but with truth, chutzpah, the wind in their sails and a set of right wing policies which look astoundingly Conservative.
As we appear to have a Prime Minister and a Chancellor who describe themselves as ‘social liberals’ rather than Conservatives, we should all be very worried indeed.