As mad as Hell: UKIP’s political success

Frederick Cowell 

Image© IndependentThinkerUK

Nigel Farage is the most dangerous man in British politics. Why?  He leads a party with no MPs and his party’s most well known policy, a referendum to leave the EU, is so popular among Conservative MP’s that should they win the 2015 election they’re offering their own version of it.  On TV he often comes across as a charming pub bore, the sort of chap who begins an argument midway through the second round saying “look, I’m saying what we’re all thinking here”. Yet as they manage to gain a quarter of all votes cast in this month’s local elections they are turning into a fourth force in UK politics and a real political headache. Even before the May election their influence on UK politics, outside of a vehicle of protest against the EU, had been growing steadily; at both the Eastliegh and South Shields by-elections they came second and since the start of 2013 have been absorbing defections of councillors from the Tories at the rate of one a week  Read more of this post

Cameron and the Referendum Game

Tom McGuire 

copyrigh European Union 2012 Council Union

David Cameron finally gave his long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU last Wednesday morning promising Britain an in/out referendum on its membership of the EU. This referendum would come after the next election, and only if he does not succeed in changing the relationship as he hopes to over the coming months, and indeed years. This appeared to be a bold and surprising move from a Prime Minister usually averse to making his position so clear. Beneath the surface it was vintage David Cameron; the Prime Minister distilled into his purest form, in the shape of this one speech.

The promise of a referendum was that special type of promise: the David Cameron promise, the kind that upon closer inspection is nothing of the sort. Making any firm pledge on ‘when-I-win-the-next-election’ grounds is dubious for any politician; it is particularly problematic for David Cameron. With the Lib Dems withdrawal of support for boundary changes he seems increasingly unlikely to command an outright majority after 2015, having failed to win one in 2010 when it was his to lose. We have also seen the Prime Minister twist, turn and weasel his way out of a number of apparently firm positions on a variety of issues throughout his term of office. Most recently, most glaringly and most shockingly, when he overturned his prior assertion that he would adopt the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry if they were not ‘bonkers’. They weren’t, he didn’t, and tellingly nobody was remotely surprised. This is a man whose promises carry little weight, even by politicians’ standards. Read more of this post

Moving to the Right?: Cameron to Consider Vote on EU

Francis Pitt 

Image © Nick Atkins Photography

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron has stated that he is prepared to consider a vote on Britain’s relationship with the European Union, adding that an in/out referendum is not what the majority of the British public “most wanted”. Britain’s relationship with its partners across the channel has always been complex and Cameron now wants to add yet another chapter to this book.

Before I carry on, I must clarify my own position on the European Union. I am a passionate supporter of Britain in Europe and studied the European Union for my undergraduate degree. I have also enjoyed studying in Europe as part of the European Union’s Erasmus Exchange Programme. For me, Britain should be integrating further into the union, and not turning its back on our European partners.

Britain’s history with Europe has been on a bumpy road, with Britain acting as the stroppy child sitting in the back seat of the car, constantly asking the drivers (France and Germany) “are we there yet?” When the forerunner of the European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community, was founded, Europe was still recovering from the aftermath of World War Two and Britain refused to join the club.  It was not until 1973 when Britain was finally admitted to the community in its first expansion, along with Denmark and Ireland. But almost from the start, the question of whether the UK should remain in Europe came to the fore when the 1975 referendum on continued membership took place. However, back then the British public was far more pro-European than today, as 67% of the voters backed Britain’s continued membership. The following 37 years have seen Britain refuse to give up the rebate, join the single currency (although this might be a blessing in disguise in hindsight), and have recently decided to use their veto.

Britain has managed to get to this position by constantly dragging their feet over practically every EU decision or treaty. In 2011, Cameron vetoed joining a new European treaty on fiscal discipline, in order to protect the City. The move left Britain more isolated in Europe and even drew criticism from the Archbishop of CanterburyRead more of this post

Beware: Anti-politics

Frederick Cowell

Image © John Kirriemuir

With two days to local elections and four days to the anniversary of an unloved event, anti-politics is everywhere. The surprise from-behind victory of George Galloway in Bradford west and UKIP’s sudden surge in the polls are both symptomatic of a rise in anti-politics. The local election result are likely to result in the expected drubbing for the governing parties but also a boost for anti-politics candidates and well placed sources have detailed Labour’s panic at the thought of by-elections later this year, in particular in Birmingham Snow Hill which they fear could be lost to another Respect insurgency.

Anti-politics is becoming a feature of UK politics – Matthew Flinders of the University of Sheffield has identified a complex tendency among the public to dislike all political parties and politicians. To an extent voters should be healthily sceptical of politics and for many years those who have cared about the environment have voted Green, those who have cared about the national identity of regions have voted SNP or Plaid Cymru and those who have cared about immigration and race have voted BNP. Both UKIP and Respect make a different appeal to voters in that they deliberately stoke and then feed off the anger of anti-politics.

The ascent of UKIP in the late 1990’s was triggered by rage at the Maastricht generation of Tories and their 2010 election slogan “sod the rest – vote UKIP”, whilst a little to naked for many voters taste’s, basically described their electoral strategy for the previous decade. On the Left, the Iraq war provided the catalyst for the Respect Party to absorb those alienated by New Labour. To be clear, UKIP and Respect are single issue parties but the issues that both parties run on, Euroscepticism and anti-imperialism< are defined by the inability of the mainstream Left and Right blocs in British politics to fully absorb these issues. Both parties also mercilessly attack government as the great diluter of principles to create a betrayal narrative out of every decision that governments make, whether they be foolhardy (invading Iraq) or pragmatic (not pulling out of the EU).  This can poison political debates during local and city elections as the supposed betrayal of the former supporters of Labour and the Tories drowns out other concerns and scrutiny of local issues. Previously the Lib Dems benefited from this but after entry into government they are no longer able to take advantage of this phenomenon. A key part of the upsurge in both UKIP’s and Respect’s support in the last year is that they, like many other anti-politics parties across Europe, offer a rhetorically appealing account of how to fix the economic woes currently facing western economies. As appealing as these messages may be many of them are ultimately unworkable, socially divisive or both, but the fury many voters feel as living standards fall generates a lucrative gig for the Nigel Farages and George Galloways of this world.

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Labour can benefit from the rise of UKIP

 Tom Bailey

Image © The Freedom Association

Since the 2010 general election, there has been much doom written by left-wing commentators about the British electorate leaning further and further towards the right. Ed Miliband’s ever-scathing critic, Dan Hodges, stated that ‘the electorate is shifting to the Right, not to the Left’ and argued that Labour must consequently move there too. There is an element of truth in the assessment that on issues such as Europe, immigration and the economy, the political right is currently more popular. However, there has not been a clear shift of support from Labour to the Tories since the election. Labour has increased its support since 2010, both in terms of membership and according to polls surveying voting intentions. There has though been a different shift to the political right occurring: the transfer of support from the Conservatives to UKIP, a development that could be of vital importance come 2015. Labour can benefit from this fracture amongst England’s political right much in the same way that the SDP/Liberal/Labour divides in the 1980s aided three successive Thatcher governments. Defection of votes from the Tories to UKIP helped Labour squeeze past in marginal seats in 2010. This effect seems only likely to increase as right-wing dissatisfaction deepens with this government.

The problem for Cameron is that many right-wing voters and politicians see his coalition government as weak on issues of core importance. In his memoirs discussing his years in parliament, ‘A Walk-On Part’, former Labour MP Chris Mullin noted on the day of the 1997 election result that ‘victory is not when our side get the red dispatch boxes and the official cars, but when something changes for the better.’ This line of criticism, that there is no point being in power if you fail to get the right policies enacted, can be seen in every negative left-wing account of New Labour. Increasingly, it seems that Thatcherite backbenchers and voters are having this same thought about the present government. Their aims are not being met, dissatisfaction is rumbling ever louder and UKIP’s policies are looking more attractive.

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