Monday, 13 May 2013

The Final Meltdown

We're leaving together/But still it's farewell/And maybe we'll come back/To earth, who can tell?

With UKIP doing well in the polls and benefiting from the most benign coverage a party has attracted since Blair's halcyon days, Tory MPs working furiously to no-confidence the Queen's Speech, AND senior cabinet members and grandees alike throwing grist in t'mill, the enigmatic lyrics to Europe's 1986 poodle mega smash fit the 2013 Tory party's trajectory quite nicely. But whereas everyone's favourite rock anthem had a touch of mystery, there is no such air about the fate awaiting the Conservatives. Time and again, history shows hopelessly split parties are punished at the ballot box. And there's no reason to believe the next general election will see this most right wing and incompetent of governments buck the trend.

The Tory malaise says a great deal about the crisis inflicting the conservative movement, if it can be described as such. The party's base is literally dying. There is a fundamental disconnect between the leadership and the associations, and for their part the associations and the world at large. And despite Dave's hug-a-husky opportunism, they grow more out of step with British culture every passing year. Top to bottom Toryism is broken, dysfunctional and fraying. The obsession with Europe, which has relentlessly dogged their politics for over 20 years now is not so much the cause of division (though of course it does have some efficacy of its own), but is symptomatic of the non-correspondence between what passes for mainstream centre right politics and the public. And it's their Europe obsession that leads Tories to misunderstand the significance of UKIP.

There has been growing clamour in the Tory ranks for some sort of deal to be struck with the hard right upstarts. Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg are typical of an argument you can only call 'stupid empiricism'. It goes like this. UKIP, as a right wing party that has proven adept in the art of vote-catching suggests that all the Tories need to do to reverse their fortunes is adopt red-in-tooth-and-claw Conservatism and problem solved: the Tories would romp home in 2015. Likewise, NF himself endorses this view, suggesting his party (because it is his party) would happily endorse europhobic Tory MPs at the next election, even going so far as having joint candidacies.

The Tories and NF just don't get it. Europe is a second order issue and only has traction with the electorate at large during a second order election. Pitifully few, and I mean pitifully few, will be deciding who to put their cross against in 2015 on the basis of Europe. It is ultimately a rarefied Westminster/media preoccupation that everyone has an opinion on, but then so does X-Factor. But unlike ITV's ratings monster, Europe matters much less.

The second point is related to the first. Ultimately, UKIP's rise isn't about Europe. I'll say it again. UKIP's rise isn't about Europe. UKIP is a right wing variant of us-vs-themism, of populism. Its appeal lies in being a middle finger to an alienating and out-of-touch politics, one seemingly decoupled and remote from the outlook and aspirations of everyday folk. In response, populism offers simple solutions to complex problems. Frightened the family unit is under siege? Ban gay marriage. Uncomfortable hearing a medley of languages around town? Ban immigrants. Worried the country is in interminable decline? Ban the EU. Or something. Marx would have recognised that populism's appeal lies in a secularisation of religion's greatest hook, it is akin to "the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions." Though in populism's case, "weary" is probably a better substitute for oppressed.

UKIP speaks to discontent and insecurity. And it offers simple solutions that would, supposedly, dispel it.

Here lies the Tories' and NF's misreading. While it has a track record of dragging votes from the Tories, UKIP's bedrock, if you like, is the core anti-politics constituency. Many Tories would delight in a pact with UKIP (and, I'd wager, an equal number would be appalled at the prospect). And so would the hard right media, NF, and a few 'kippers who fancy a piece of the parliamentary pie. But for the angry brigade who feel let down, pissed off and otherwise aggrieved at mainstream politics - UKIP's very bread and butter - well, that wouldn't do at all. It's a political volatile held together primarily by NF's "charisma" and momentum. If UKIP clamber under the mouldy old bedclothes with the Tories, a good chunk of the party - and its vote - would blanche at the prospect, just as the Tories would bid adieu to centre right swing voters and what's left of "sensible", "moderate" conservatism. The passage from perceived anti-establishment outsiders to the very bosom of mainstream politics would do for UKIP what the Coalition Agreement has done for the LibDems, albeit without a party machine and centuries of localised but real support to fall back on.

Dorries concludes her Sun article looking ahead. "Without doubt, the next two years in politics will be the most exciting we have seen since the last war" she dribbles. It's possible. But not because her fevered delusions are about to come to pass. But rather the British Conservative Party, the oldest, most successful political party the world has seen, could well end up eating itself and handing the Labour Party the next several sets of Westminster elections on a platter.


asquith said...

And I do think it's the kippers who are going to be melted down. If Farage had any sense he wouldn't be gloating over his "gains", he'd be hoping desperately to manage/restrain his councillors. We've got the first resignation already...

... and the Richard Delingpole situation (yes, he honestly is a real person and brother of James) just goes to show that what rightbloggers tell each other is really funny disgusts the people who elected kippers and already wish they hadn't.

No, it's not about Europe. I appreciate the intellectual case against the EU but who really would support a party whose most human and likeable member is Tim Worstall (ffs) and whose second is Farage? Far fewer people in subsequent elections than this time once their "representatives" have got started.

Phil said...

Well, we're bracing ourselves for some by-elections across North Staffordshire over the course of this year so we shall see what message UKIP pushes and determine how effective our counters are.