Thursday, 9 October 2014

End of an Era; Start of a Storm

by Jadon Buckeridge



Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell
(source: Guardian)
Our nation remembers nothing but 'three party politics'. But times are changing. 

The by elections in Clacton-on-Sea, Rochester, and Heywood appear merely to quench the thirst of the political commentators, in the calm before the storm of 2015’s general election. But deceptively. Away from the glitz and the glamour of the party conferences, Farage and his pack of hungry hyenas lurk in the shadows, baying for the blood of ‘the political elite’.  Have the government and the opposition, with their complacencies and dismissals, bitten off more than they can chew when it comes to pacifying the UKIP assault? 

UKIP, to their own great advantage, have been continuously underestimated by political parties and the media alike: finding the nation's pressure point in immigration, they battled to unprecedented successes in the European elections. Amid the growing divisions in the Conservative party over the EU, they smuggled two Tory (Euro-sceptic) MPs from under their noses and now Farage and his men stand menacingly at the doors to the House of Commons, watching intently as the first drops of purple begin to spill into the green chamber.  A victory in any of the three forthcoming by-elections breaks down the door for the UKIP politicians, and, once they step foot in the House, there will be no going back. The end of an era will have arrived.

Gone will be the days when Red, Blue, and Yellow painted the unspoilt political landscape; gone will be the days of the ‘two-horse, one-donkey’ election races. In the 15 years from 1950-1965, only 9 seats were won by parties outside ‘the main three’ – that’s an average of less than two in each general election; in the upcoming election of 2015, the 'other party contingent' will be incomparably large relative to that same contingent 50 years ago, and the Lib Dems – cut down by the rampaging UKIP - are not even expected to make ‘the main three’ (in terms of percentage of the vote).

Victories in these by-elections would also force a strategic re-think in the ranks of the Conservative and Labour parties. While UKIP are kept at bay without a seat in the House of Commons, the government and opposition have no incentive to win their favour. Even the party leaders hurl scorn at the UKIP politicians, who lie bound in the stocks by a mediocre manifesto. ‘Fruitcakes and loonies’, the Prime Minister's flattering analysis of Farage’s followers, may have hit the UKIP leader with the hot roast; at the time, it may even have given the Tory elite a chuckle. But the irony stung when UKIP scraped the icing off Conservative’s party conference, announcing the second defection, and it will sting again when Farage’s 'fruitcakes' are served on a platter in Parliament, laced with laxatives, prepared to serve their own political menu which the Tories might have some trouble digesting. If UKIP do take to main stage of British Politics, the dismissals will stop. After all, next May, UKIP could (as part of a coalition) make up one half of the government.

Dismissal of minority parties is an issue much larger than UKIP: as the rallying SNP eat into the Labour heartland in Scotland and the Greens steal a seat or two in the South, the core political parties feel the turning tides washing away their own subsiding support. In fact, of the 6 parties mentioned so far in this article, 5 are faced with the very real prospect of being in government come May (albeit in coalition). In the build up to the European Elections, one of the mains faults in the initial ‘UKIP-handling strategy’ was exposed: Conservative MPs aimed their cannons at the UKIP ship, making a mockery of their political credentials, but ended up shooting themselves in the foot. UKIP, far from retaliating, sat back and watched, as the Tory MPs angered more and more of the electorate, and guaranteed more and more votes for UKIP. After all, in dismissing UKIP, they were also insulting the intelligence of each voter that comprised Farage’s growing network of support. And so contrary to tradition in the UK, the ‘main parties’ are going to have to listen: they can’t risk further vote dilution by allowing the rise of a second ‘UKIP; they can’t allow frustration to amount amongst the electorate to the extent that people cast votes in protest. Like political systems across the rest of Europe, the UK is adapting to accept emerging parties, to form a culture in which constructive coalitions can thrive, and to recognise the issues that are really troubling the people.
    
Having held UKIP accountable for tearing down the ‘Berlin Wall’ that stood between the people and the political class, it will come as no surprise when Farage is the fastest to rise from the rubble. The (ex-Conservative) beer-drinking ‘man of the people’, famous for making political waves, is planning a tsunami. UKIP, spotting the resurgence of extreme policies across European politics – the Hungarian Nationalists, whose success in the European elections was remarkably similar to that of UKIP, for example – have grasped a niche in the UK’s market. Their policies are controversial: issues like immigration, which bear the connotations of racial discrimination, are sore subjects in political circles. UKIP, as the European Elections approached, came under continuous fire from the media and the political establishment alike. And yet the ‘closet racist’ brand, which their opposition attempted to impose upon them, did them far less harm than good: the electorate, many of whom held immigration to be the most important issue facing the country, soon realised that the only way to be heard was to vote UKIP.

Amazingly, without even entering Parliament, UKIP have managed to mould the manifesto of the party leading government: there is little doubt, had Farage not existed, that Cameron, the self-confessed Europhile, would have refrained from promising a referendum on a subject he’d much rather ignore. Now, following a Conservative majority at the next election, UKIP could, theoretically, achieve their paramount goal in politics – an exit from Europe – without even winning a seat. Such is the wizardry of Farage.


UKIP, through relentless criticism of Europe, isolated the issue of immigration. It’s a sensitive topic. People are reluctant to discuss it. But UKIP are not, and this willingness to break protocol and to stretch the boundaries of ‘political correctness’, has engaged the electorate in a way that traditional political issues and parties have not. This one asset – UKIP’s innate ability to reach out to the voter – is, I believe, what will secure them a first-ever seat at these by-elections; what will lure more of the rebellious Eurosceptics amid Cameron’s restless ranks into defection and what will prise the inner nationalist, Eurosceptic, UKIP mentality out of the uncertain and disillusioned voter.

UKIPs impact on the voting demographic is also a crucial component in their success story. The Conservatives, with their ‘big business’, ‘mighty middle-class’ policies retain a portion of the electorate which they can rely on for support; Labour, strong-armed by the unions, mould their policies around wooing the working class; even the Lib Dems maintain voting strongholds across the nation. They manage this because they have the power of time on their side: loyalty buys these parties votes. But not UKIP. Established in 1993, what UKIP lacks in political pedigree, it makes up for in enticing ingenuity. In the same way ‘young Labour’ tapped into the politically dormant amongst the electorate, UKIP have found the key, unlocked the door to the people, and won the trust of those who previously were too cynical or  politically disengaged to make an appearance at the polling stations.


Shockingly, the UKIP- Labour parallel doesn’t diverge just there. UKIP's unforeseen march on to the political battlefield is an echo from the past: when Labour was established, its novel ideas engaged the electorate in a similar way, its radically new policies reached out to the unreachable, and, within 24 years of existence, baby-Labour transformed itself into the giant at Number 10.  Perhaps then, as UKIP celebrates its 21st birthday, we ought to count ourselves lucky that we are unlikely to see the self-approving grin of Nigel Farage, beaming at us from behind the Despatch Box on a Wednesday lunchtime, at least for the time being.                

UKIP is an uncanny political force: amongst its fleet lie the loyal, the previously passive, and now the converted; amongst its polling army are votes stolen from every corner of the political battlefield, supplemented exponentially by an entire contingent of votes, unlocked from the previously ‘politically-disengaged’; meanwhile, on its throne of rebellion, sits the joker, the tactician, and the infinitely charismatic demagogue – Nigel Farage. Our nation skates into these by- elections on thin ice. If UKIP can break it, there could be chaos. 

6 comments:

  1. A really interesting article Jadon (why aren't you taking A Level Politics!!) - do remember though that by-elections are often ideal opportunities for 'protest votes'. Remember the Liberals' 'Orpington man' from the 1960s... personally I think the Heywood result will be the more interesting one to watch today/tomorrow. If UKIP can make inroads into the Labour vote in its heartlands tyhen we are in for an interesting ride.

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    2. Of course I agree a win for UKIP in heywood, a labour stronghold, is unforeseeable. But they do not need to win. As I touched on in my reply to Mr Lemieux, these elections are just as much about the momentum as the result. A severe UKIP advance sets a powerful precedent: the threat of UKIP will diversify, reaching the entire breadth of the political spectrum as we know it. Therefore I would argue that the result in the Heywood seat is equally, if not more important (as an indicator of UKIPs potential potency next May), in comparison to the seats on offer in the other by elections. Defections have proved UKIPs grasp on the conservative party; Heywood could prove they are tightening the grip on labour too.
      I also disagree that a vote for the conservatives is a vote for labour. In the south, it is certainly not. But I also reject this concept for the north, which I assume you refer to on this point. Admittedly, voting for UKIP rather than the conservatives in the north may pose a greater threat to a small number of labour seats, but this school of thought fails to appreciate the bigger picture. While possibly depriving labour of a small number of valuable seats, the votes for UKIP would once again change the publics perception of UKIP. Growing support for UKIP in the north would translate to greater support throughout the nation's electorate. The electorate as a whole would hold UKIP in higher regard, and as a result, Farage's party would threaten more and more conservative seats in the south, hence helping labour.
      UKIP wins votes through astute publicity and political marketing: to keep them quiet is to defeat them, and to nullify UKIP is to keep Milliband out of number ten.

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  2. Thanks. For me, it's the double sided nature of these by elections that are making them such a gripping political narrative: on the one hand the imminence of the general election means people can vote in protest, and change their mind only months later; on the other, however, people are likely to realise that the momentum their by election vote will create could bear great influence on the result of the general election. People will also bear in mind that voting for ukip in these by elections may trigger further detections, and create greater publicity for the Farage cause. Because of this, I'm of the opinion that rather than voting in protest, the electorate will cast a vote reflecting their intentions for next May.

    With respect to politics : I'm studying on the IB, which (outrageously) doesn't offer a politics course.

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  3. Interesting article Jadon!

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