On Thursday, the British electorate will vote in what is, in and of itself, a meaningless election. Some of them will also be voting in Local elections, which in some cases may actually have a genuine impact in their daily lives if they manage to either elect a decent Councillor or even change the political make-up of their local council for the better. Granted, few of those councils up for grabs are likely to produce a result where the local councillors actually clean the toilets themselves as occurs in Britain’s only UKIP-controlled Council of Ramsey – and I can assure you that kind of duty (see what I did there?) is not part of UKIP’s Local Election Manifesto – but even with the limited powers Borough Councils now posses, it can make some small difference.
So, why call the European Election ‘meaningless’? Well, in terms of what will change on the ground, it is. My wife asked that very question just last night, in the context of what a massive UKIP sweep would mean. And the answer is – nothing. Not one drop of the flow of the ‘invisible hand’ of massive European regulation which stifles the British economy would cease, as the bureaucracy has its inbuilt majority in the Toy Parliament in Brussels and it is highly unlikely that even the most optimistic projections of impending victories for anti-EU parties will break that stranglehold on the ridiculous rubber-stamping process masquerading as voting which takes place there.
But politics is so often about perception, not reality. All of the parties – UKIP included – are essentially running on their domestic policies rather than what they will achieve by being in the European Parliament, as they will achieve precisely nothing in legislative terms and they all know it. The EU question rests entirely on the outcome of the 2015 General Election and any subsequent such moments. It’s that simple.
So what about perception? Well, so often in any First-Past-The-Post system such as ours, perception of ‘who can win’ rather than ‘whose policies do I identify with?’ is king. And it really, really is. There are well-trafficked websites dedicated to tactical voting considerations – though as those are usually aimed at the more discerning anti-Tory voter with a view to encouraging people to vote Liberal Democrat where Labour can’t win the seat I suspect their traffic stats may be a little down in 2015, as I think five years of Coalition government will have somewhat soured many of those voters on the idea that a vote for the LIberal Democrats is an ‘anti-Tory vote.
So really when it comes down to it, for pretty much the last few decades the situation has stayed the same. At every General Election, unless the political climate has been created where a genuine extreme of loathing has been created for the incumbent administration that something truly overwhelmingly ‘anti’ takes place (1979 or 1997, for example) then the Conservative and particularly Labour parties have a pool of ultra-safe seats which they basically do not need to really try all to win in terms of expenditure or manpower – signage, leaflets, bussing in activists or senior Party figures and the like. I tend to refer to them as Chimpanzee Seats – shave a chimp, cover its modesty with a pair of shorts, stick a rosette of the appropriate colour on them and hey presto, Bonzo Oook MP will fit right in with the other braying, hooting simians as they wave their order papers at each other across the pretend divide inside the House of Commons.
What these Chimpanzee Seats do in practical terms is to allow both the two parties to concentrate on fighting in the marginal seats – the seats which are winnable and losable dependent on your point of view. Labour benefit most from this, and as the Lib Dems prepare to go begging for a post-Election Coalition with Labour next time they came together with them to destroy any hopes of the very necessary constituency boundary reforms which the Tories had pledged for this Parliament which would have blunted the massive edge the Labour Party has because of this factor.
But, almost without real warning, something has changed. Genuinely changed. Suddenly those Red and Blue rosetted chimps have come to the horrified realisation that quite a lot of their ultra-safe seats just aren’t so safe any more. Because there’s a new game in town, and it is carving out a place for itself outside of the usual political paradigm. Sure, they can still safely edge out this new political force from most of their Chimpanzee Seats when they can concentrate their resources in a Bye-Election. But at a General Election? Well, the Greens proved in Brighton what can happen when an insurgent Party concentrates its resources into one single seat when the other Parties are spread out fighting over half the country. And this new force has far more activists and is starting to attract far more in the way of financial clout than they are ever likely to be able to muster.
That’s right, folks. The racist bigots are here. And those Chimpanzee Seats are suddenly not so safe any more in a lot of cases. Seats which Labour and the Conservatives haven’t had to seriously contest for decades are suddenly in need of attention in case UKIP steals a march and takes them out from under their noses whilst they are focussed on South Marginal. And what must be worrying for the Establishment is that UKIP’s General Election polling figures are staying remarkably robust, constantly above 10% and in some polls rising as high as 20%. If that vote starts getting concentrated in a serious way into a couple of dozen constituencies then those seats stand a good chance of falling.
So, what to do about this dreadful upstart threat that dares to challenge the cosy consensus politics of Westminster? Well, that’s easy. Kill it.
I will not dwell overlong on the appalling nature of the media’s campaign against UKIP. There is after all a degree of what my Psych Major friend calls ‘confirmation bias’ involved with how people have received it. Those who genuinely believe that any opposition to an open door immigration policy or EU membership is racist and bigoted will of course lap up any story the Establishment media, sitting as it currently is with the Sword of
Damocles Leveson hanging over it, is prevailed upon to print, no matter how blatantly inaccurate or misleading. Believing that around 0.3% of UKIP’s council candidates saying racist things means that UKIP and its members and voters are racist bigots whilst ignoring explicitly racist elephants in the room such as Diane Abbott and David Ward who are treated as perfectly respectable members of the actual House of Commons may not be logical, but logic is not massively at work for anyone who will scream at non-‘white’ UKIP candidates at public meetings their belief that they hate non-white people. Likewise, those who are drawn to UKIP because of its outsider status are simply strengthened in their belief that it is the right choice for them with every increasingly intense attack made against them, not necessarily because of any deeper feeling or conviction then that. This outsider status is of course especially strengthened when it emerges that it is indeed the Conservative Party – which tries to present itself as at least ever so slightly to the political Right – which is the source of the dirt which is being exhaustively dredged up and fed to the most Leftwing newspaper in the country by Cameron’s dirty-tricks brigade.
I always have maintained on the subject of freedom of the press that I support a Free Press 100%, but just wish it wasn’t this one. However after seeing how easily our actual supposedly Free Press has been prepared to whore itself out to the political establishment in exchange for the watering down of the Leveson recommendations to launch its asymmetrical war against UKIP, I am somewhat minded to change that view. Perhaps, just perhaps, this Free Press isn’t worth saving. If it is going to effectively act as State media and do as it is told when required to, why worry about whether or not that same State ‘officially’ regulates it or not? A difference that makes no difference is no difference, as the saying has it.
I’ve been ‘involved’ with UKIP since 1997, though in a very on and off fashion. When I think about it, I’ve pretty much done it all, I guess. I’ve been a Constituency Chairman, stood for Council, run local General and Euro Election campaigns (though in 2005 I pretty much had three men and a dog at my disposal, and if I’m honest the dog couldn’t always be persuaded to turn out). I’ve spoken at public meetings on the same platform with people as the late and much lamented Graham Booth MEP – a quietly hilarious man with a keen sense of the absurd, whose maiden speech in the European Parliament was delivered in the thickest Devonian accent he could muster in order to make a point about the ridiculousness of ‘one size fits all’ for an entire continent which confounded the translators no end, and who despite his ‘exalted’ MEP status was out delivering leaflets through Torbay doors the first time I called to book him for a meeting. I helped ‘out’ BNP infiltrators in Bath (which subject came up in the pub after a meeting last night in conversation with Gawain Towler who may well be about to become an MEP himself, as it turns out he had not long become UKIP’s Press Officer at the time) with the late and equally lamented Malcolm Wood, upon whose death I don’t mind admitting I actually shed a tear. Nigel Farage once also sat me down for a drink to ask me to consider standing for County Council, which was quite an interesting moment as I’d just finished amicably but rather (ahem) robustly arguing with him about not standing against proven anti-EU MPs in 2010 – an argument which it appears I eventually have now won, hah!
So when I say I have a pretty good inside knowledge of UKIP and what makes the people in it tick, believe it. So what’s the deal? Are they xenophobic Little Englanders, determined to keep Britain ‘white’ and very, very British? Hell no. In fact I meet a significant proportion who are very well travelled indeed, in fact on a leaflet drive over the weekend in Christchurch one of our number was called precisely that, a racist Little Englander. He then proceeded to list for his interlocutor the number of countries he had lived and worked in – not a small number I might add – flashed a picture of his deceased Indian born wife and walked away with greater restraint than I believe I could have mustered under the circumstances. One of our longest-serving members locally hates those dreadful foreigners so much that he spent three years in Iraq training the Shah’s air force. Another local official spends more time not far north of the Equator doing Aid Work (of the kind that doesn’t involve writing a big cheque to a corrupt African government) than he does in Britain.
But clearly xenophobic racists, the whole manjack of them. After all, it said so on the BBC.
So its not xenophobia. It sure as hell isn’t racism, in fact under UKIP’s level playing field Immigration Policy a much greater percentage of immigrants would be on the darker side of pale then the pasty white boys we are currently importing from the EU in droves. So what is it? Why give your time, your money, your commitment, endure the opprobrium of friends and family and now even risk physical harm as attacks on candidates are stepped up, and gauntlets of abuse must often be run by members at public meetings and during campaigning?
The answer is simple. Pride.
Pride in country, no matter what politicians have done to it. Pride in each other and each other’s sheer boneheaded dedication to a cause. I remember being sat on a coach with a chap called Chaz on the way to a Party Conference nearly a decade, talking about the brick wall we seemed to be banging our heads against electorally. Chaz was elderly, actually in damn good shape for his age but becoming slightly infirm despite his best efforts to keep fit. He was upset that he was soon going to be unable to physically put leaflets through doors.
“Carl, I’m 88 years old. What good am I to UKIP, to my bloody country, if I can’t even deliver leaflets no more?”
That’s what he said to me. That’s real pride. 88 years old, still wanting to do his bit and nurse the skinned knuckles we all end up with after a good day’s leafletting, and wanting to do it because he felt that someone had to for the sake of the country we all live in, and because he was damn proud to be one of the few who were fighting back then. That’s not a person to insult, to call a xenophobe or a racist, to treat with contempt and derision and to call disgusting and beyond the pale, even if you don’t like his politics. The keyboard warriors currently throwing their nasty, vicious snarks at people like Chaz have no pride in anything except their own narcissistic urge to be seen to be Good Guys.
Now, things are different. UKIP is, as they say, an idea whose time has come. All those years of grafting and losing elections that people like Chaz, and Graham Booth, and Malcolm Wood fought through with dedication, endless commitment and just so much damn pride are coming to an end. I am a hardcore atheist, but if any of those religious afterlives are for real, I know that the three of them are out there somewhere, looking at what people like them have achieved to bring us to the point where for the first time in a very long time millions of people are ready for a ‘Network moment‘, and punching the damn air as they watch the political class reach for a change of trousers every time a new opinion poll hits the newspapers.
These people, some my friends, some I wouldn’t associate with in a million years outside of politics, have managed to achieve something astonishing. They have brought UKIP to the verge of, to use Farage’s vernacular, the first genuine political earthquake in British politics in decades. With nothing but a fulltime staff in single figures, a single generous donation from one man, and the sheer bloody determination of a few thousand activists, we are very likely going to beat the entire dirty Westminster machine, its tame media lapdogs and all the bovine Liberals who have even been promulgating Daily Mail and Sun smearjobs as if they are unassailable truths when they have spent their entire lives denouncing them as utterly untrustworthy news sources without any trace of self-awareness whatsoever.
Whether we win the Euros or Labour councils manage to stuff enough ballot boxes full of ‘postal votes’ to stop us or not, whether we win hundreds of local council seats or none, one thing isn’t going to change. And it’s this.
I just could not be one damn inch prouder. Because like I said, that really is what its all about.