Friday, 23 May 2014

A one-night fling with Nigel Farage

I have been trying to imagine what it must feel like to have woken up this morning and remembered that yesterday, for the first time, you voted UKIP.

Probably, it felt like any morning after the night before. You've been eyeing up someone for quite a while, not your usual type but attractive in a dangerous sort of way, and then last night, you finally got it together. This morning, you dragged yourself out of your crumpled bed, and here you are, staring at yourself in the bathroom mirror.

What have I done? Was it just a stupid one-night fling? Or do we have a future together? To be honest, it was OK last night, but not great. Not exactly an earthquake -- I can't say the earth moved -- but more than a spasm? Hmm …

Here's the thing. The people you usually end up with have always turned out to be disappointing. They make promises they don't keep, they take you for granted, and frankly, they're losers. So what the hell, why not? You thought you'd try something different, something that would horrify your friends if they found out. Their disapproval would just add to the excitement. But they don't need to find out, do they? What goes on in the bedroom stays in the bedroom.

Just like in the ballot box.

All right. Perhaps voting in local council and European parliament elections isn't quite the same as sex. But I hope you see my point: was it a one-night spasm, or was it a political earthquake? By Sunday night/Monday morning, as the European parliament results come in from across the 28 nations of the EU, we'll be treated to the full panoply of hyperbolic imagery: cataclysms, earthquakes, shifting tectonic plates, politics as geology.

I don't buy it. As I've suggested before, my strong belief is that voters across the EU are simply in a mood to adminster a damn good kicking to the nearest available target. Bankers and their brethren seem somehow to keep themselves well out of the way, so there's no alternative: kick the politicos where it hurts them most -- in the ballot box.

The fact is, of course, that millions of voters couldn't even summon up the energy to adminster boot to backside. Why bother? Instead of going out to pull a new partner, why not just stay at home and watch the telly-box?

By this time next year, we'll have had the 2015 general election. If the current opinion polls are anything to go by, it may be a very close run thing, and that usually brings out the voters in much greater numbers than if the result looks like a foregone conclusion. Five more years of Cameron, or time to give Miliband a go? It's a much clearer choice than choosing from a list of people you've never heard of.

My prediction? After next year's general election, UKIP will end up with not a single parliamentary seat at Westminster and a share of the vote much reduced from their share this week. On local councils where they have won seats this time round, the -- how shall I put this? -- somewhat variable quality of their candidates will soon become even more embarrassingly evident.

That's the thing about small parties led by a single dominant, charismatic figure. The internal tensions quickly lead to fatal fractures, and that's as true on the right as on the left of the political spectrum. I reckon there'll be UKIP councillors quitting within six months at most.

So nothing to worry about, then? Au contraire, as I wouldn't dare to say if I were sitting anywhere near Mr Farage. The success of UKIP is a direct and inescapable consequence of the abject failure of the mainstream parties to connect with deeply disillusioned voters. It doesn't need Dave and Ed to light up a fag and be photographed from now on only with a pint of beer in their hands -- perish the thought -- it just needs them to start talking a language that vaguely resembles the language the rest of us speak.

They've got just under 12 months to get it right. Meanwhile, the rest of us will start taking a closer look at some of Mr Farage's unpleasant new bed-fellows in the European parliament. And if you did vote UKIP this week, never mind, we all make mistakes, in bed as well as at the ballot box. Put it down to experience.

By the way, on a much more serious note, if you missed my recent reports from South Sudan, now threatened by both genocide and famine, my article for The Observer is here, and my report for The World Tonight is here. You can look at some of my photos here.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I can't help thinking, despite reports of UKIP taking votes from Labour, that there remains a politically dissatisfied constituency for whom UKIP has not provided a way to blow off steam; maybe I think so because I belong to it.

I'm a traditional Labour voter who would never vote UKIP in a thousand years: its Little Englandism repels me and I believe, however much Mr Farage may protest, that xenophobic sentiments motivate too many of his supporters. Nevertheless, I share quite a lot of UKIP's discontent with Europe, on grounds of democratic deficit and an unwillingness to be dragged, without a vote, into an ever more federal European polity. Not so much because it's federal; more because it's so undemocratic: what kind of parliament has no role in proposing legislation? What kind of executive appoints its own president, obliged merely to 'take account' of the views of the directly elected legislature on this decision and, indeed, on legislation itself? It's a disgrace. It may well be that the EU is too big, too diverse, too unwieldy ever to be capable of governance without these huge compromises, but shouldn't that ring an equally huge alarm bell for all democrats?

I'm not convinced my views on Europe are represented by any political party. Is there room on the broadly libertarian left for anything other than a sort of bovine, Cleggish pro-Europeanism, that allows the drift towards a federal Europe because it thinks that's the only way to secure human rights? We should be ashamed of ourselves: the 20th century has taught us nothing if we still believe ends, however attractive they appear, can justify means.

Millions of Britons have neither the ability to participate in the 'knowledge economy' nor any idea how to fill the economic and cultural hole left by the departure of traditional industries. UKIP are in the business of filling the accompanying political hole, but the task is so far beyond their means it would be laughable if the consequences weren't so serious. Many rushed in UKIP's direction yesterday, but I'm willing to bet many more simply despair, as I do, of a political alternative. Macroeconomic movements are plotted way above us, not least so-called 'free trade' deals between the EU and US that will actually result in the entrenchment of private interests in public services. And what can any of us do about that? Write to our MEP? Who is not even a necessary part of the political process that will agree such a deal?

My grown-up children don't vote: they say 'we don't understand it'. And I despair, because my own efforts to educate them have shown me that, the more they understand it, the more determined they become to have nothing to do with it: radical politics isn't an option they give themselves. And that, as I think we can agree, will open the way for the men making large, false promises, the end-justifiers.