May 10, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
In amongst the possibly genuinely held joy of many on the centre and left of politics at the fall of UKIP, suggested in the Stoke by-election, and confirmed in the council elections last week, should be a note of severe caution. There is a reason for their impending fall into almost complete irrelevance on June 8th, and it isn’t because they have gone away, it is because they have succeeded beyond the party founders’ wildest dreams.
Just think about what caused UKIP to lose all 114 seats they owned at the council elections. It wasn’t that people don’t believe in their message any more, it is because their message has been subsumed into the platform of the political party that is set to rule the UK almost unopposed for at least the next decade.
Theresa May’s attitude to Europe, which has already fallen into an ‘us and them’ shrillness of tone, a denigration of those who think they might be citizens of the world, and undeliverable promises on immigration, could be in UKIP’s manifesto. So could her commitment to grammar schools, which has been UKIP policy for a long time – with similarly muddled thinking behind it.
UKIP’s voters were ignored, laughed at, fought, and then they won the EU Referendum. In Theresa May, they have found the perfect deliverer of Brexit. Her political career has been full of a determination to follow her brief unquestioningly and to the full in a highly professional manner. It is what made her able to stay on as Home Secretary for so long and what made her seem the safe pair of hands the party needed after the chaos wrought by David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum he thought he would never lose. She is, to coin her only phrase, strong and stable.
So UKIP voters haven’t gone away. They haven’t changed their mind. They have managed, through being (whether you like it or not) the most successful political party in terms of time in existence and achieving an aim in British political history, to do what they set out to do. Now they have won back the Conservative Party.
Think about this. In 1997, 20 years ago, they were led by Alan Sked. The Referendum Party, led by James Goldsmith, won 800,000 votes in that election, but the winners were New Labour by a massive landslide. After a few years of living in the electoral wilderness of appealing to their core right-wing vote, the Conservatives were pulled over to the left, particularly on social issues, in a pragmatic bid to win back power, which took them 13 years. To do that they elected in David Cameron a young, metropolitan internationalist leader who (despite being forced to pull out of the centre-right EPP in the European Parliament) was prepared to do and say anything to make himself the true ‘heir to Blair’. This is how almost one million voters found themselves with little option but to vote UKIP in 2010, which may have been in vain in terms of representation, but may well have lost the Conservatives some marginal seats. Still, the Conservatives were back in Number 10.
Even then, they had to share that power with the internationalist, left-leaning Liberal Democrats (remember, the Democrats in that name comes from the Social Democrat Party made out of former Labour Party politicians in the early 1980s). This meant a policy programme that involved a referendum on changing the election system, legalising gay marriage, and a constant feeling that David Cameron was going to be pulled away from challenging EU infringements on sovereignty. Yes, he vetoed the EU budget in 2011, and voted against Jean-Claude Junckner in 2014 (for reasons that seem remarkably prescient now). But really, it was obvious that the 2010-2015 Government was not a home for Eurosceptics.
So they kept plugging away, talking to right leaning MPs about defecting and winning the EU Parliament vote in 2014 (the only party apart from Conservatives and Labour to win a U.K. Election since 1906). Just before that, David Cameron decided to give his Bloomberg speech, which committed his party to an IN/OUT referendum if they won in 2015. Since no one expected them to win that majority, they could then negotiate this reckless idea away in coalition negotiations.
But they did win, and one of the reasons is that UKIP targeted Labour voters, taking them away from Labour and allowing the Conservatives to win more seats in the North than expected. Those Labour voters are interesting, because they appear to be making the full transition to Tory voters. Why? Because many Labour voters don’t really know why they vote Labour. It’s in their family, for reasons to do with their past. A time when Labour was a very different party. They barely knew what the policies were, they just voted Labour. Then their lives were changed, or livelihoods threatened, by uncontrolled immigration from Europe as well as badly controlled immigration from other places, and Labour was to blame. Convinced getting out of the EU was part of the solution, and voting for UKIP was the best way to do that, they voted UKIP. Now the best way to secure Brexit is to vote Conservative. That’s what matters most right now. Not the NHS, not education, not inequality, Brexit. That’s all that mattered to UKIP too, and they won. Not just the referendum, but they won back the Conservative Party.
Just think about what that means. The Conservatives will win this election, and unless Labour sort themselves out into an electable force again (impossible whilst one man one vote elected their leader), we are stuck with a Conservative Government for possibly a generation. Not just any Conservative Government either. A Conservative government led by its right-wing, almost far right-wing, for a generation, unopposed. It’s a reactionary pact that plays our election system perfectly, milking the inability of the left to put aside political partisanship in favour of something so sordid as winning seats using a progressive pact to the full.
You think UKIP lost last week and are going to lose on June 8th? Think again.