Quite a perceptive piece in yesterday’s Times (£) about UKIP by Tim Montgomerie. Tim is always worth a read where politics is concerned and he writes with passion. I don’t always agree with what he says but I treat his writings with respect.
Of course, like other Tory commentators, he has to dig up the obligatory “fruitcake” references to “sluts”, “bongo bongo” and “floods=gay marriage” but then we could quite easily just casually throw back Eleanor Laing, Nigel Evans, Patrick Mercer, James Gray and, of course, Tim Yeo as examples of that might be causing a certain measure of Tory discomfort.
So let’s ignore the playground banter and drill down into the significance of this Tory stalwart’s analysis. His key point is that UKIP has emerged from its adolescent phase.
“The emergence of UKIP could make it as difficult for the Conservatives to win power over the next decade as the emergence of the Social Democrats made it hard for Labour to win power in the 1980s.”
He is puzzled, however, by the absence of what he calls “big beast Tory defectors”.
“The Gang of Four — Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers — were all considerable figures when they defected from Labour in 1981. No senior Tory has joined UKIP. For the moment, at least, the mould of British politics remains unbroken.”
But would such a crossover be such a game changer? As Peter Bolt said in the comments “Perhaps it is because it has not attracted the ” big beast defectors ” (with egos to match), that UKIP is such a threat”.
As Tim helpfully reminds David Cameron and his party, when faced with an open goal provided by the totally discredited Brown/Balls/Milliband ministry, Cameron & Co. failed to kick it into the net. At least a million people took a long look at Cameron in 2010 and didn’t like the cut of his jib. So in 2015 he needs to keep his 2010 base plus inspire those one million deserters to call him Mr Wonderful.
Wait… is that a pig in the sky?
“As things stand he has lost at least a million and they’ve haemorrhaged in UKIP’s direction.”
If not that million, what about those working class voters who kept on contributing to Mrs Thatcher’s electoral successes, and who were then seduced by the Oscar-winning snake-oil-salesman Tony Blair?
“Mrs Thatcher won elections because the aspirational working classes saw her as closer to their values than Michael Foot or Neil Kinnock. Those voters today identify with Nigel Farage rather than David Cameron. That’s why UKIP is coming second in by-elections in Rotherham, Middlesbrough and other Labour heartlands.”
Tim points out that those who sneer at UKIP (both from the right and left) for being a policy free zone make the mistake of confusing the PR driven puff dreamed up by student interns at CCHQ (Big Society, hug-a-husky-and-a-hoody etc) with policies.
But all that pre 2010 stuff was about positioning an image to convey the message that under Cameron the Tories were no longer the NASTY Party. Instead it was a blue version of Tony Blair, cuddly, kind and so 21st century.
Trouble was, and is, that, like Blairism, the image was so kind, cuddly and modern that it lacked coherence, making it difficult to understand what exactly you were getting when you bought that Tory product.
However, says Tim, you know what’s inside the UKIP tin
“Mr Farage already has a range of policies that differentiates his party from “LibLabCon”. UKIP is the only party that wants to leave the EU, slash the aid budget, cancel HS2 and replace human rights laws. That’s the patriotism and populism part.”
But increasingly, UKIP is presenting a narrative that resonates with the idea of social justice. There is suspicion of bringing privatisation into the realms of public services like health, education and prisons. It’s not that the party would be willing to dance to the tunes of the public sector unions (who want these areas run for the benefit of those who operate the system rather than the consumers); throwing taxpayers money at corrupt and inefficient public sectors (the Blair/Brown solution) would not be the UKIP way. But the Tory solution of throwing the same taxpayers money into sleazy cut-costs-to-the-bone private operators helped by shadowy lobbyists doesn’t suit, either.
What Tim thinks he has uncovered is a shift in tone.
Rather than a crude anti-Europe, anti-immigration message, UKIP’s candidates are framing their arguments with lower-paid Britons in mind. We’re not against immigrants, goes the argument, just against how immigration cuts British people out of the labour market and off the housing ladder
The NewKIP faction wants the days after the European elections to be the moment when the party surprises people. During what is expected to be a big moment in the spotlight the aim is to showcase opposition to privatisation of the NHS and preview tax cuts for the working and middle classes.
This shift in tone is what brought me, a self confessed latecomer, into the party. For many years I sympathised with what UKIP was saying. I liked the message – it was the messengers who didn’t inspire me with confidence. Too many of them appeared to me (note caveat) to be more excited by preaching doom in the manner of an apocalyptic cult.
They weren’t interested in finding the needle in the haystack – they just liked rolling in the hay. That, of course, might well be terribly unfair. But that was not just my perception – it was also the perception of many of those newbie members I spoke to who attended last year’s national conference. It was the by elections and local elections in early 2012 that enabled us to come out of the closet.
Plus, of course, that arch shape shifter David Cameron.
You can, as I do, admire Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall, Diane James and Patrick O’Flynn and others as proof that UKIP is a serious political party. But David Cameron remains UKIP’s biggest asset, as Tim highlights:
Tories worry that, whether it’s the referendum, control of immigration or the promise of a higher minimum wage, voters will remember equally passionate commitments in the past to the Big Society, to end Punch ’n’ Judy politics or to build the greenest government ever — all now kicked into very long grass.
The greatest danger for David Cameron is that voters will decide that he doesn’t mean what he says. And if they do conclude that, UKIP’s anti-Establishment message could hit the electoral bullseye.
Amen to that, Tim.