Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Economy, not UKIP, will decide the next election

It’s probably fair to say that the pundits and anoraks are enjoying events in Westminster far more than the political class. The establishment are getting a kicking by…one of its own. The difference being Nigel Farage does normal, down to earth, far better and with far less effort than either Cameron or Miliband.

The prevailing wisdom on UKIP can be summarised three ways. One: UKIP are here to stay. They will continue to vandalise the political landscape, gobbling up disillusioned Tory voters, and thwarting a Conservative majority in 2015. The right is permanently split.
Two: UKIP are a transitory nuisance. Typical mid-term protest by a chunk of the electorate fed up with the usual suspects. A sizeable number of their supporters will rush back into Cameron’s arms come the election. They’ve made their point, now comes the important stuff, like electing a PM.

Three: UKIP are the latest repository for working class anger. A section of society who feel left behind, bewildered by the modern world, with neither Labour nor the Tories speaking for them. Many will vote Conservative in two years, but many won’t vote at all. They don’t care who’s PM, but given a choice, most prefer Cameron to Miliband.
Points one and three are bad news for the Conservatives. It means another hung parliament, with Miliband the most likely beneficiary. The Conservatives will be praying that theory two comes true, and that enough Ukippers switch back in time.

As a Labour man, standing back and watching the Conservative Party self-combust is always a pleasure. The best leader they’ve had in years, still their greatest asset, the most media-friendly Tory in an age, and yet that’s not enough for some people. Move even further to the right they cry, ignoring the fact that for the last three years the party hasn’t stopped moving.
UKIP satisfy peoples’ anger with immigration and welfare. But, they’re unable to explain the reason for this: the economy. It is, and always will be, the economy. When times are tough people lash out. They want someone to blame for an unforgiving job market and a cost of living reaching unsustainable levels. It’s either the immigrant’s fault or the benefit scrounger at number 32.

UKIP are experts at telling us what’s wrong with Britain and listing all the things they’re against. Not so good at setting out a vision for how to make things better. The economy part of their manifesto doesn’t really matter because they feed off populist hyperbole. Their sums have been taken apart more than once. When asked why they had voted UKIP last week, most just shrugged and said “because.” Asked to name any of their policies: no idea, they responded.
Farage and his motley crew are so transparent it’s embarrassing. But, not as embarrassing as the hysteria they generate. The only way to combat UKIP is to sort out the economy. Taking them on where they feel most at home will only backfire. No party is going to outflank them on immigration. Nor should they try to. No amount of Conservative Euroscepticism can compete with a demand for EU withdrawal. You can’t get more Eurosceptic. Cameron can bang on about a referendum all he likes, but he’ll be hamstrung from day one: he’ll be campaigning to stay in the EU. Those who most demand one do so because they want it to lead to Britain’s eventual exit. Cameron doesn’t.

People can smell authenticity. They know Farage is being sincere when he talks of closing borders and waving goodbye to the EU. Voters don’t buy Cameron’s tough talk. They certainly don’t trust anything Labour says on immigration. Its stance on Europe is as muddled as most of its policy ideas. Labour has gone backwards over the last 9 months or so. The party seems most at ease talking in the abstract.
UKIP can be tackled two ways: take fright and fight back by trying to ‘out-Kip’ them. Or give people a reason to feel positive and hopeful about the future. Only a reversal in the economy’s fortunes can do this.

This comment piece was first published on Speaker's Chair on Thursday 9th May 2013

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