Saturday, 2 March 2013

Crimson Tide

Friday 1st March

I woke up to a slightly different country on Friday morning.
Having dozed off in the middle of Andrew Neil's 'This Week' programme on Thursday evening, I missed the news as it unfolded and had to be satisfied with the BBC & Sky News loops as I tucked into my muesli and prepared the MacLeod Brothers for school.

While UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, came second in the Eastleigh by-election, the casual observer might have been forgiven for thinking that in fact Nigel Farage & UKIP had won, such was the coverage on the news feeds. It was a similar story on Twitter, and I watched my tweet-feed yesterday with various degrees of amusement as the various key players of all political colours stepped up to provide their respective reasons for the result.

Naturally, as a current Tory Party Member (I think I am - I'll have to check my subscription), there was a shade of disappointment at the Liberal Democrat win, although I did chuckle to myself as the Tory Party Deputy Chair claimed it was a 'success for the Coalition Government' after one of the most bitter fought election campaigns I can recall between the two coalition partners.

Various commentators published their opinions on the result, the best pair coming from the recently unmasked 'Fleet Street Fox', and another, from a rather wistful former agent, via Tim Montgomerie at ConservativeHome, both well worth a read.

To spare the repetition, I consider both of the above points of view to be on target. I've sensed a change of voter opinion a couple of times recently, specifically starting with the MP's Expenses Scandal. And stripping away the mid-term blues scenario, the main conclusions I've drawn from this episode are that something bad is happening to the Tory machine; and that UKIP have stealthily and very recently become a force to be reckoned with.

To my mind, it is coalition government itself which has seriously battered the reputation of the Tory Party. A large number of members & activists feel let down by their Parliamentary colleagues, whom, having been supported during the long years of opposition in many cases, are now hamstrung with a social democratic partner and a socially democratic 'metropolitan' cabinet. That's not all bad in policy terms in my opinion, but it doesn't half upset 'em in the shires. Such disillusionment goes some way to explain the legions of departing Tory members and the rise in support of the other right of centre political party in the UK, UKIP. And if a party can't keep its existing members, how on earth can it properly campaign successfully, with all the planning, execution and manpower involved, let alone be expected to recruit, enthuse & create a new replacement membership base.

And UKIP. The interesting change on yesterday's media was how without exception, all pundits and all channels were treating UKIP as a serious party. This was a marked change from previous electoral results and indeed, from the previous week's reporting on the very same election, where UKIP were largely dismissed as contenders, with comments ranging from 'a joke' through to 'a protest' as the week went by. And as mentioned above, the story wasn't a LibDem win or even a Tory loss: it was a UKIP second-place that made the ticker-tapes. It remains to be seen how UKIP develop over the next twelve months, but it is clear that the party has somewhat transformed itself over the previous twelve in terms of membership, organisation and most importantly electability, if not yet completely in terms of policy.

Interesting certainly.
But what does it mean?

I imagine that we'll see some further right wing policy leaks & announcements, but I don't believe we'll see a right wing lurch from the cabinet. Any moves in that direction will gift support to Labour, particularly if David Milliband is back in the frame. It would also have every likelihood of destabilizing the existing coalition, again to the benefit of the Labour party. Similarly, I don't yet see any fusion between the the Tory Party & UKIP (even though the membership demographic is very, very similar) for the same reason. The UKIP membership would probably require some far more right-leaning politics, which the prime minister simply cannot provide, even if he wished to.

Where this will end is anybody's guess, but I'm reminded of my old school prefect, James Purnell, opining about the 'Third Way', back in 2010. Perhaps UKIP will ultimately attract the majority of the right away from the Tories, leaving a collection of Tories, Liberals and Socilaist social democratic players to form a new party of the true centre. Perhaps the next coalition might have UKIP MP's as a part of it. Or perhaps it will all end in tears in 2015 for UKIP once its determined that the country wishes to stay in Europe after all.

One thing is for certain though. Its a slightly different political country today.


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