Monday, 19 November 2012

Our Friends In The North

Our great successes last week in Corby and the PCC elections have given us all in the party the feeling of building momentum, and those outside the party debating the nature of the UKIP surge.

It was simply irresistible not to hang out for a time on ConservativeHome and observe the post-mortem. One almost felt pity for a myopic and increasingly unsure and demoralised Tory party which is still desperately behind the curve of what is really happening. Several contributors to the comment threads said that a vote for UKIP was nothing more than a "protest vote", whereas Tim Montgomerie on Twitter bewailed the splitting of the political Right, just as the Left is becoming more united.

What rubbish. The greatest divide in current society is not between the old 'Right' and 'Left' but between an arrogant Metropolitan elite that controls the three other main parties on one side and the vast majority of the British people and UKIP on the other. Old habits die hard, of course, and voting habits are so ingrained that even now they still reflect the old tribal traditions. That said, the more perceptive amongst the electorate increasingly perceive the new order of things, which is why UKIP is increasingly drawing its voting strength from Labour, not just Tory, defectors.

The recent demise of Denis McShame (sic) and  forthcoming by-election in Rotherham will therefore give us a great opportunity not only to build on our momentum but to hone a 'Northern strategy' aimed at building and widening our support.

At first glance UKIP's adherence to free market economics would look politically completely toxic in former industrial areas such as Rotherham, but that is less true than one might imagine: a capitalist message  is much less distrusted coming from us than from the Tory party, which is indelibly associated with class exploitation and whose motives will always be deemed highly suspect.

In presenting our policies in areas like Rotherham, the trick must be to explain why our brand of capitalism will actually lead to greater social justice. For example,  our policy on higher income tax exemptions and abolition on employer's National Insurance to spur job creation can clearly be presented in this context. Even our "flat tax" policy can be presented as a system much less easy to game, meaning we will have less abominations such as the super-wealthy paying 10% tax rates.

On social policy, clearly UKIPs policies on immigration, crime and community are vote-winners in working-class communities adversely affected both socially and economically by high immigration and social breakdown. Beyond those specific concerns, traditional working-class communities tend to be naturally socially conservative and find the smug, narcissistic liberalism of the Metropolitan elite actively repellant, and of course their instinctive patriotism chimes well with our anti-EU message.

In understanding the changing nature of politics in Britain, Labour is actually far more ahead of the game than the flaying Tories or Lib Dem's. The party has, at least partially, understood the need to reconnect with their base after it's near total neglect in the New Labour years. Hence the invention of Blue Labour by Maurice Glassman, with an agenda of "Faith, Family and Flag".

However, Labour has two major problems to deal with. It is unlikely to be trusted on the touchstone issue of immigration, and secondly the priorities of it's funding base - the mostly white-collar, mostly public sector unions - does not dovetail perfectly with the agenda of working class communities in the North or elsewhere who feel so abandoned. That said, Labour, with its 55% of the polls in the North, would seem impregnable. (But then they used to say that about another Labour fiefdom - Scotland.) As for the Tories, they are regarded as beyond the pale, and now the Lib Dems are strongly tainted by association.

So how much effort should UKIP expend on Northern regions like South Yorkshire where, as the saying goes, the Labour vote is weighed rather than counted? Firstly, there is a strong moral case for UKIP to make a major effort in the North. Northern political culture has long been disfigured by the politics of class envy and a chippiness towards the South. Capitalism is associated with Toryism and while that remains the case large areas of the  North will remain "sovietised", embittered and economically stagnant. UKIP has a unique opportunity to bring a capitalist message without class baggage that might, just might, be listened to.

The second reason is one of base political calculation. If UKIP can peel off a fragment of Labour's support, it could lead to the party supplanting the Tories as the North's second party. This could lead in turn to a total collapse of the Tory vote share in Northern constituencies as natural  Tory voters see UKIP as the only viable alternative to overwhelming Labour hegemony. Already exiled from Wales and Scotland, the result would be the collapse of the Tories as a creditable national party.

Everyone is talking about UKIP now, but the commentariat still see us largely as a "right wing" rump of discontented Tories, perhaps still nothing more than angry old men enjoying a brief Indian summer. For that reason, a good result in the seemingly infertile ground of Rotherham really would register as a major political earthquake.

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