Most of us of have heard of Sherlock Holmes famous aphorism:
‘Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’
‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.’
‘The dog did nothing in the night-time.’
‘That was the curious incident,’ remarked Sherlock Holmes.’
Well, for UKIP the outcome of the Farage vs. Clegg debates yielded two such dogs.
The first such “dog” was identified by our own Patrick O’Flynn, following Farage’s destruction of Clegg in the second debate:
Would you forgive me for observing that among the anti-UKIP commentariat today there’ a slight case of ‘it’s all gone quiet over there’?
Indeed. It is hard to overestimate the shock administered to the media commentariat this week. It wasn’t just an unexpected defeat on the narrow issue of Europe, it was a terrible cultural defeat for Metropolitan Liberalism in general. For the first time, the cultural values of our elite were not just defeated but destroyed in one-to-one combat against a man they consider a politically incorrect dinosaur.
Signs of impending disaster for the political and media class were there after the first debate, when some of the commentary quite frankly became demented. The Telegraph’s James Kirkup, adopted an almost hysterical tone concerning Farage’s supposed support for Vladimir Putin.
A few days earlier, in a bizarre article, his colleague Dan Hodges displayed a surreal example of the bunker mentality, defending the closed elite he belongs to in terms that were beyond arrogance. He then went onto declare, against all the evidence, that not only had Clegg had won the first debate but that he had already won the second as well! For those of us of a certain age it brought back memories of that old Russian joke about the man who broke into the Kremlin and stole next year’s election results.
As Patrick noted, after the debacle of the second debate there was around 24 hours of stunned silence from much of this constituency. After all, Clegg had been pitch perfect from their point of view – the condescending manner towards the plebs, the ersatz emotion in place of hard-nosed realism, the intellectual shallowness, the overweening self-regard.
However, within the first 10 minutes it was obvious he was running on empty, and in mounting desperation proceeded to throw the entire politically correct kitchen sink at Farage. It did no good, and the polls showed that it all went down like a lead balloon with the viewing public.
You can make a strong argument that respect for Metropolitan Liberal values have been in decline amongst the wider population since the catastrophe of the Iraq War or at least the financial crisis, but hitherto the elite has sailed on regardless, oblivious to the shifting sands beneath them. Clegg’s defeat brought into sharp focus how total the rejection of their values and culture has become.
Perhaps the silence that followed means that the reality of the situation is finally sinking in and they now have a real fight on their hands if they are to retain their elite privileges. There are some signs of this, judging from this post-debate column in the Independent that shows an uncommonly good understanding of the UKIP-voting demographic and the threat it poses to the Labour Party.
However, that brings us to the second ‘dog in the night-time’, namely that the vast majority of people didn’t watch the debates at all. A great deal of coverage has been given to the fact that over 1,000 people have applied to join UKIP after the debates, or – Heaven preserve us – that we have many more Facebook ‘likes’. However, although UKIP also seem to have some uptick in some – but by no means all – opinion polls, these were still substantially less than the wild poll swings that occurred during the leadership debates in the 2010 general elections.
The reason for this is almost certainly that the audience who watched the Farage vs. Clegg clashes was much smaller. At the time of writing I cannot find viewing figures for how many people watched the debates, but I am willing to bet that they were a mere fraction of the average 9.4 million which apparently watched the leadership debates in 2010.
Yes, the debates were a substantial victory, but it is victory only really recognised within a relatively small part of the population that is politically interested. Victory, as always, brings with it dangers of complacency: it is very easy to seduce oneself into thinking that UKIP is an ‘army on the march’, that we now have ‘unstoppable momentum’ or, worst of all, that ‘victory is certain’.
Victory is very definitely not certain. Farage was wrong to claim as he did in the second debate that the “people were with him” on Europe. They are not. The vast bulk of them are where they always have been – with Sky Sports and ‘The Voice’, both of which I am willing to bet got vastly higher viewing figures than Nigel vs. Nick last week.
The people may now be hostile to the prevailing Metro-elite and its ethos, but it is still overwhelmingly a passive hostility. Most people fear the unknown and the majority of what is still a relatively apathetic electorate will, almost certainly, “keep a hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse” when it comes to voting in either a European referendum or a General Election. Motivating the great bulk of people who didn’t tune into the debates to vote for change in either is still UKIP’s Sisyphean task.
Moreover, the elite now feels definitely threatened by UKIP and is very well aware of how personally costly it’s fall from power would prove. Expect them, therefore, to use every ruthless and amoral tactic they can between now and the next general election. Expect any excuse to be given to exclude Nigel Farage from the 2015 general election leader’s debates. Expect postal voting to be used as aggressively as possible, even illegally, to limit the UKIP vote share. Expect ever more hysterical language and claims to be made against UKIP’s policies and personnel. Expect, therefore, things to get even rougher from here on in.