Wednesday, October 01, 2014

It's time to unite against the UKIP threat.


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.


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