What a difference a year makes. 2013’s local elections hold plenty of painful memories, but few make me wince as much as that of the Sunday before polling day. For inexplicable reasons, Ken Clarke appeared on our screens, and proceeded to roundly insult those who were considering voting for UKIP.
It wasn’t a wise approach, and Clarke – one of the last of the out-and-out Tory europhiles – was the worst possible messenger. Nigel Farage himself couldn’t have arranged a better way to start the election week.
Happily, 2013 is behind us. Even more happily, Clarke’s clumsy intervention is replaced today by a much more welcome interview in the Sunday Telegraph with Sajid Javid.
The headline is the Culture Secretary’s message to immigrants coming to the UK: they should learn English, respect our way of life and get a job, he says, adding for good measure that Sharia law is unacceptable in the British legal system. It’s a firm but reasonable approach that the vast majority of Britons would agree with, bolstered by the fact that he speaks from personal experience. His parents did exactly what he recommends, and their son’s success is a compelling demonstration that it can work well for those who come here and the society which welcomes them.
The interview touches on UKIP – how could it not? – but notably he hasn’t surfaced simply to fling stones. His is a much more productive way of dealing with Farage’s insurgency – offering real alternatives, rather than simply shouting about the failings of the purple and yellow brigade. Notably, he openly acknowledges that the EU makes it impossible to control our own borders – a fact previously ignored to the Government’s cost when reality collided with rhetoric over the immigration pledge.
As others have pointed out, the harm done by UKIP’s rise to Tory prospects is not just in the lost core votes and activists, it is that the younger party is picking up the votes of others to whom the Conservatives could and should have appealed to vote blue. Some of them have not voted for many years, others are disillusioned former Labour voters – it’s our loss that Javid’s case wasn’t put to them some years ago.
But there’s no use crying over spilt milk – today’s pitch is a well-targeted, productive one, and we must build on it. The Culture Secretary is more than justifying the warm words of those who said he was one to watch. After today, let’s hope for more of the same.