UKIP plumbs the depths with lies, innuendo and deceit.
A few years ago, before he became “famous”, I had dinner with Nigel Farage. A mutual friend, also called “Nigel”, invited me to join the two of them after we had all been at Lord’s cricket ground for the day. We met at a Malaysian restaurant in West Hampstead and as far as I can recall it was a pleasant evening. The two Nigels, like me, enjoyed the spicy food and Tiger Beer and that and a bit of cricket chat (mainly), was the purpose of the evening.
Farage is almost a generation younger than me – he was born in 1964, the year I left school and started work. But we have similar backgrounds. I grew up in the same part of West Kent as Farage and visited the same pubs in Downe Village (his home) and elsewhere. My father was a member of “West Kent Golf Club” (WKGC) as is Farage. And I was at Farage’s school Dulwich College for three years in the 1950s. I know the world he comes from well.
The 19th hole at WKGC and the watering holes around the area were not known for their liberal debate. The house journal for the men was the “Daily Telegraph” and for the women the “Daily Mail”. My father, not a particularly political man, was at the heart of this for thirty years. They were, of course, all Conservatives in every way. Socially illiberal. Hangers and Floggers. Vehemently ant-Socialist. Their attitude to the working-class was generally either patronising (“Salt of the Earth”) or hostile (“Union trouble-makers”). They were against any social or what they saw as “intrusive” legislation. Especially if a car was involved. So Barbara Castle was a pariah for cracking down on drink driving and introducing the breathalyser and for making seat-belts compulsory. You get the picture. I don't recall my parents or their Golf Club friends as being particularly racist – black or Asian faces were rare in that part of Kent. But their world was a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant world and Catholics and Jews were certainly looked at with suspicion.
WKGC is a hilly course and you drive down a big hill and cross a small valley before climbing up to the Clubhouse. One day I was in my father’s car en route to the Club. I noticed at the bottom of the hill a wooden building with a corrugated roof. A few golfers were standing outside it. I asked my Dad what it was. “Oh that's the Artisans” he said. He explained that this group comprised working-class men who would not be able to “afford” proper membership of the Club. They had their own modest facilities, teed off from the 10th hole nearby. And were banned from the main clubhouse.
It does not follow that if you grew up in this world of privilege and narrowness then you developed political opinions like those of Farage. But it is fair to say that the majority did especially if, like Farage, you did not go to University but went straight into the City. Your mind certainly won’t be broadened by your friends in Downe’s “George and Dragon” ! The Conservative Party was the natural home for those politically active in West Kent. In the main they had political opinions not dissimilar to that of UKIP today – they were Right-Wing Conservatives who leaned far more towards Enoch Powell than they did to Edward Heath. Needless to say Margaret Thatcher was their heroine.
My dinner with the two Nigels was, as I have said, a pleasant evening. I don't recall Farage being particularly mad or outspoken. Although my politics are of the Left many of my friends and acquaintances are of the Right so there was nothing especially unusual about hearing a few traditionally rightist views from Nigel Farage . I’d been hearing similar for decades in my own family! I didn't take Farage seriously because he didn't seem to take himself seriously – it was well-lubricated pub banter and it seemed harmless.
The problem with Nigel Farage is not his unsavoury views about most things – you’ll hear similar all the time in the circles from which he comes. The problem, of course, is that Farage has had for some time platforms from which to spout his nonsense. My Dad and his friends didn't stand on soapboxes – they mumbled bigotry into their pint glasses and moved on to talk about rugby or cricket. Nobody would have elected them to anything more demanding than the Golf Club committee.
UKIP’s natural home is the members’ bar of West Kent Golf Club and its like across southern England. Sitting on their high stools the members would no doubt refer to “Good Old Nigel” as the “Sort of Chap who talks a lot of sense”. Dissenters (there would be some) would shrug their shoulders and smile – as I did over dinner. They might say that it was all “harmless” and that nobody was going to give Farage the keys to anything that really mattered. But now he has them, the keys to Britain's immediate political future. In Iain Dale’s Top 100 people of the Right he is at Number one – ahead of David Cameron. We may comfort ourselves that you can never fool all the people all of the time, but then you don’t need to. Dictators only get 100% of the votes when they gain power - not on their journey there.
There is no intellectual substance to UKIP’s policies – but there doesn't need to be. The support from the Golf Club bores is solid and secure. And now Farage is making serious inroads into the “Artisan” vote as well. To wander down the hill and knock on the door of the wooden building with the corrugated roof smiling your Cheshire Cat smile and pandering to the prejudices of the people there is all in a days work for our Nigel.
You've been warned.
@BBCMarkMardell: Ken Clarke,on Today warns against 'ignorance & bigotory' and says Conservatives shouldn't 'follow nonsense' about EU immigration
The loyalty deficit in the Conservative Party is not a new phenomenon. Ask John Major. The Party that under Ted Heath had the vision to see that Britain's future was as an active member of a united Europe has for twenty years or more had a large lunatic fringe who want to undo all that has been achieved.
One of UKIP's battle cries is its assertion that Britain's three main political parties are all the same - this they illustrate by the use of the constructed word "LibLabCon". It is a powerful message which captures the spirit of the times - an anti-establishment war cry but one, which like all of UKIP's slogans, has little ground in reality.
Whilst the Coalition has inevitably forced the Conservatives and the LibDems together there is still clear water between the two parties. The width of the water can be expected to widen in the run up to the 2015 General Election. And the Labour Party is different from the Conservatives in its history, core ideologies and especially in its membership and support.
That the centre ground of politics is crowded - especially after Blair and Brown created "New Labour" - is true. There is little wriggle room in economic policy given the size of the budget deficit - to be spending £30billion a year servicing debt is unsustainable and a wasteful thing to do with our taxes. And there is a reasonable consensus on social issues as well - the liberal society that has been established over the last fifty years is here to stay and there is little argument about that.
The leadership of the three main parties is also reasonably united on Foreign policy, even on Europe. Where there are differences, however, they come not from the leadership but from the rank and file. Far more Labour MPs were opposed to the air strikes in Iraq than those that actually voted against. And, of course, the Conservative Party is as split as ever on the EU. But power brings responsibility and Cameron and Co. know that for Britain to leave the EU would be irresponsible. As, of course, do the Labour and LibDem leaderships.
The coincidence of core policies on economic, social and international matters is not a function, as UKIP's sloganising would like to suggest, of a conspiracy between the parties. There is no formalisation or official agreement, nor does there need to be. And there is plenty of room for policy differences on some key issues, such as (among others) the NHS, taxation policy and an EU referendum.
In opposing the status quo UKIP creates policy proposals that appeal to the gut but have little or no basis in reality. However their policies all derive from their core Europhobia. They focus on immigration but say that to "Regain control of our borders and of immigration" is "only possible by leaving the EU". This is a powerful message and there is little doubt that UKIP's 2015 election campaign will revolve around it. It isn't true, but that won't stop its promulgation.
The position of the three main parties is that membership of the EU is essential to the UK's future. True the Conservatives in response to the UKIP threat and, as ever, that from their Europhobe wing, are nominally wavering a bit - for example Boris Johnson's recent speech in which he said that his "preferred option" was to stay in a reformed EU, but added "I think we can get there; but if we can't, then we have nothing to be afraid of in going for an alternative future..."
Nigel Farage is peddling snake oil - but he is good at it. People respond to simple messages especially if there is a hard core of faux patriotism in them. UKIP says "As a party we are unashamedly patriotic: we believe there is so much to be proud about Britain and the contribution it has made to the world." The not so hidden implication here is that by supporting the UK's EU membership the three main parties are in some way unpatriotic. We know that playing the patriotism card is, as Dr Johnson put it, the "last refuge of the scoundrel". Nigel Farage does it unashamedly.
Standing up to UKIP is the only way forward in these febrile times. The pro EU message is harder to encapsulate in a slogan than the anti one. To deny a referendum can be painted as undemocratic - the Conservatives are certainly throwing this jibe at Labour at the moment – but in fact Cameron is playing with fire in respect of this quite unnecessary referendum promise - as he did with the “IndyRef” in Scotland. This very well summed up in this short leader in "The Independent “recently.
The truth is harder to sell than the lies - but we must do it. Labour, the LibDems and (most) Conservatives are not united in their support for the UK's membership of the EU because they have conspired to be so. They take this position because it is indisputably right. UKIP will continue to preach the message that the EU is the main reason for many of Britain's economic, social and other difficulties. From their different ideological positions the three main parties must refute this strongly and expose it for the lie it is. Time to come out fighting.
What now for the Scottish National Party? As I wrote after the outcome of the Independence referendum was known they were a one trick pony, and that pony has been shot. This conclusion was strengthened by the decision of Alex Salmond to stand down as leader. He was saying "That's it" - or it is , as he put it "for a generation". Salmond’s subsequent backtracking and the emergence of the “45” movement makes little sense. He got it right the first time around. The independence game is up for the foreseeable future.
The SNP's single manifesto position was independence for Scotland. They pursued it doggedly, secured 45% of the vote both in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election and in the referendum campaign and have run Scotland for seven years. But with independence not on the agenda - at least for a very long time - what will the SNP and Scotland do? That will be for the electorate to decide of course as I don't imagine that the SNP will disband. Power is addictive, they have it and I doubt that they will give it up willingly. But given that the General Election in 2015 and the Scottish election in 2016 will not be about independence, and that further devolution to Holyrood should have been agreed before both, why would a voter choose the Nationalists ahead of the broad manifesto parties Left, Soft Left and the Right?
The three main UK parties have to offer policies on all major issues at General Elections. It would lack credibility for them not to do so. While one or two issues may be dominant - the Economy, the NHS, immigration (possibly) - and while the character and personality of the Party leader is important they still have to present a broad manifesto. Single issue parties don't have to do that - if, as in Scotland, that single issue is all pervasive they can win and gain power.
Fitting the SNP on the Left/Right political axis has always been difficult. When I lived in Scotland in the 1980s they were sometimes referred to as "Tartan Tories" though they weren't very successful from this position. More recently, and knowing that to win the referendum they had to persuade Labour voters, they moved to the Left - the referendum campaign was unashamedly Left driven. The SNP could build on this and become a sort of Scottish Socialist Party and challenge Labour from that position but I doubt that that would be likely to succeed. Most voters, understanding that independence is off the agenda for the foreseeable future, will surely prefer to chose whether they want to be governed from Centre-Left (Labour, LibDems) or Centre-Right (Conservatives) and vote accordingly. I would expect the outcome of the 2016 election to be a Labour Government, possibly in coalition with the LibDems, with the Nationalists and resurgent Conservatives (helped by the PR system) vying to be the official opposition.
Which brings us to the “UK Independence Party” which like the SNP is unashamedly (though differently) nationalist. UKIP is not a “broad manifesto” party – ask even their supporters what their position is on any subject other than the one of nationalism and they wouldn’t know. Indeed their leader also seems not to know sometimes. UKIP’s nationalism is based on xenophobia – which the OED defines as a “deep dislike of foreigners”. These foreigners are the apparatchiks in Brussels, the EU citizens who have the temerity to exercise their right to come and work in the UK and the multicultural Britain that now exists following decades of immigration and the growth of “ethnic” families. This extreme xenophobia is illustrated by, for example, the admission by Nigel Farage that he feels “uncomfortable” when he “doesn't hear English in the train” ! Trivial though this borderline paranoid silliness is it illustrates neatly the inward-looking nationalism that grabs at the Union Flag to symbolise the party – (as the even more extreme nationalist British National Party does):Linked with the nationalism of UKIP, and a key element in the SNP’s Independence referendum positioning, is the rejection of traditional politics. For both parties Westminster is the villain – in UKIP’s case for having sold Britain’s soul to the devils of Brussels. This is an appeal to the guts and, of course, a convenient opportunity to blame somebody. The growth of UKIP has been fuelled not by the chattering political classes but by those who feel disenchanted and disadvantaged. In Scotland the “Yes” vote was much stronger in the more deprived areas such as Glasgow (53.5%) than in the much more prosperous one like Edinburgh (38.9%). UKIP’s strength in seaside Essex (Clacton etc.) is the same.
History teaches us that radical often single-issue parties do well in times of economic difficulty. If that difficulty is unfairly being experienced by one segment of society then that is a happy hunting ground for extremists. By any definition the break up of the United Kingdom was a pretty extreme proposition, but 45% of the Scottish electorate voted for it. Similarly the raw and often bigoted nationalism of UKIP is extreme, but 28% of UK voters in the European elections chose it – more than any other Party.
In these febrile times, with a hard core of deep resentment among many who voted “Yes” in Scotland and those who vote for UKIP in England, it would be dangerous if the traditional broad manifesto parties do not respond. I say “dangerous” advisedly because while both the Scottish referendum and the rise of UKIP have been peaceful that may not continue. Extreme nationalism, history also teaches us, can have a violent edge to it. Mosley's blackshirts were militaristic – as, of course, was the IRA. The SNP – a Party in many ways akin to Sinn Fein – does not have a military wing, but it could.
The response to the SNP has to be simultaneously to build on the “No” vote by strengthening British institutions, while honouring in full commitments made to greater devolution to Holyrood. These twin objectives are not incompatible. A Federal and elected Upper Chamber in Westminster looking after pan-British interests is, for example, an option worth considering. At the same time UKIP can be defused by working with our partners in the European Union to implement more fully the Union’s principle of “Subsidiarity”. There is a direct parallel here. Delegate to our Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies everything that logic says would be better devolved. Create an English assembly to do the same for England. Meanwhile ensure that these same principles apply in Europe. Our membership of the EU is undisputedly of great value, though the case is not always well made. But that does not mean that it should not change and that certain things that are done in Brussels should in future be done in London – or Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast for that matter.
Self-interest, particularly Party interest, should not dictate something as important as constitutional change. The “West Lothian” question is long overdue to be solved – and the narrow interests of the Labour Party should not stop this happening. Scottish MPs should no more vote on English matters than the reverse! And we should create, at last, a proper written Constitution for the United Kingdom – one that will endure and be the glue that holds us all together much longer than a generation!
The rebirth of Gordon Brown is one of the more surprising, but pleasing outcomes of the Scottish Independence referendum. Brown was the one that the political and media establishment loved to hate during his years as Prime Minister. On the contrary his ten years as Chancellor were mostly lauded, at the time, by an often supinely admiring political class. Did he spend more than Britain could afford in those years? In retrospect yes, but remember that before the financial crisis the Conservatives promised to match Labour’s spending plans!
If Brown was a less good Chancellor, in retrospect, than he seemed at the time (not least his failure to curb the casino behaviour of the banks) he was arguably a better Prime Minister. His handling of the financial crisis, particularly the international dimension, was generally praised as was his chairmanship of the 2009 G20 summit.
Since his 2010 election defeat Brown has been rather a brooding figure. But unlike his predecessor he has not sought to enrich himself by cashing in on his ex-PM status. He has also remained a member of the House of Commons and assiduously looked after the interests of his constituents. But on the great affairs of State he has been mostly silent, except in his writing and the the occasional speech, often unreported. But when the Scottish referendum seemed to be going suddenly wrong for the “No” campaign he emerged from the shadows – and how!
The speeches Brown made over the last few weeks of the Referendum campaign were truly outstanding. Passionate, fluent, emotional and of course intellectually robust. I say “of course” because intellect has always been Gordon Brown’s greatest asset. He always “gets” an issue however complex - sadly he did not always “get” the political fallout from problems when he actually did what the highly developed logical left-hand side of his brain told him to do! In retrospect it is sad that the Left brain driven Brown and the Right brain driven Blair could not build on the powerful logic of the early years of their partnership. That Britain's two most outstanding and complementary modern politicians fell into an acrimonious war reflects badly on both of them.
But since 2010 Brown has had the moral high ground whilst Blair has become a figure of derision. This means that Blair could never return – a fantasy of some Blairites that took a while to go away. Brown on the other hand has returned – honourably and successfully. He also has his man in the Labour leader’s job and another as Shadow Chancellor. Whether they now seek to use Brown in some way we will see – but my guess is that it is in Scotland that his future may lie.
The next elections for the Scottish Parliament are in May 2016 but if Gordon Brown has ambitions in Holyrood he could perhaps become an MSP before then in a by-election. Clearly the outcome of the 2016 Scottish election will be heavily influenced by the aftershock from the Referendum vote and by the 2015 British General Election. Whether the Scottish National Party can reform itself and its platform when, as Alex Salmond admitted, a referendum could happen only ‘once in a generation’ remains to be seen. My guess is not. The SNP is a one trick pony and that pony has been shot and buried. This means that Scotland could revert to the Left v Right political character which once dominated it – and which is the norm in most jurisdictions around the world. SNP Votes ought to flow back to Labour and allow them to return to power in Scotland in 2016. Gordon Brown could help this happen and I rather suspect that he would like this. If he then became a “Father of the House” figure or something else we would have to wait and see! But First Minister of the Parliament in his homeland that he helped establish and in the context of a sound Union over which he once presided, and which he defended and even rescued, would be a nice coda to a remarkable political career.