Monday, 4 March 2013

The Rise Of UKIP Isn’t Splitting “The Right”: It Is Emancipating It.

Our Dan loves a literary analogy or two. Or five. Or six. Having surely exhausted Shakespeare by now, he has plainly moved onto Homer: seeing himself as a latter-day Cassandra, prophesying certain doom if a UKIP-Tory pact is not brought about. Just like the despairing Trojan, he must know deep down that his warnings will go unheeded; that such a pact is impossible, at least with the current Tory leadership, but nonetheless he feels compelled to plead for one anyway. Post-Eastleigh, right on cue, up popped Dan yet again, urging the necessity of an idea resurrected more frequently than Christopher Lee’s Dracula used to be by Hammer films.

To be fair Dan is not alone. One of the predictable conclusions drawn from our stupendous performance in Eastleigh by commentators across the spectrum was that it showed that the political “Right” was now fatally split in a way similar to the Left was throughout the20th Century, after the eclipse of the Liberal Party by Labour in the years following the First World War.

Is it true? Well, to start with the terms “Left” and “Right” are fairly meaningless these days, having being distorted and misused out of all recognition from their original concepts of “change“ on the one hand and “order” on the other. This should come as no surprise in a post-modern world where language is used as a weapon of misinformation: where the Conservative Party is no longer conservative, the Labour Party no longer represents labour and the Liberal Democrats are not really liberal and very definitely not democratic (h/t Cranmer).

That said, let’s accept for the purposes of this discussion that the modern “Left” is broadly defined by the Metropolitan Liberal consensus, and the “Right” by the rest of us outside that privileged bubble. Even if we follow the very dubious reasoning that UKIP and – no laughing now - the Conservative Party are therefore on “The Right” and Labour and the LibDems on “The Left”, does the rise of UKIP really risk ushering in long-term Labour / Liberal hegemony?

For a start, well before David Cameron came along, the Conservative Party was in long-term serious decline. True to form in a party with a strong “Vicar of Bray” tradition, the Cameroons wrongly analysed this as being due to a lack of Metropolitan modernity in its social thinking. However, in practice the party had, and has, deep structural and ideological weaknesses. For a start, it is true that there is a rotten and cynical segment to the party that seeks only to conserve privilege and elite rule at almost any price. Clearly that particular stand of tradition is always going to alienate many voters, particularly from modest backgrounds. However, what has really done for the party is it’s relative myopia: good at the small picture but hopeless at the big one, over time the Conservative Party has found itself constantly outmanoeuvred, and it’s time in government largely spent reacting to the carnage wrought by successive Labour governments.

As a result, the party has got a partially undeserved but deeply rooted reputation for selfishness, harshness and cruelty. Far more than any other party, the Tories face a hard ceiling to their support, with a great many voters not prepared to vote Tory under any circumstances whatsoever, including very substantial numbers who would consider themselves conservative or at least anti-Metropolitan on many issues. (“Agent” Cameron’s special genius, of course, is to have extended that sense of revulsion to many of the party’s previously core supporters.) It is for this reason that a Tory-UKIP pact is of such limited value. Even if UKIP withdrew from the field entirely, the number of extra votes for the Tories would not get the party over the finishing line. Furthermore, if you want to see the likely effect that any kind of association with the Tories would have on UKIP, just look at the Liberal Democrats today.

In this context, we can see that what the rise of UKIP really represents is the emancipation of “right-wing” voters previously marooned by the old political order: so very many have felt compelled to cast their vote negatively for the party most likely to keep the hated Tories out, or increasingly have given up on voting at all.

The statistics from Eastleigh about the provenance of UKIP’s votes speak for themselves: a great many UKIP voters came from the Liberal Democrats or Labour, supporters, and perhaps most interesting of all, many came from people who hadn't voted in years.

Hence the great irony of Dan’s Cassandra-like wailing is that it comes at a time that UKIP’s disproportionate mining of disaffected Tory voters is demonstrably well on the wane. Instead it is perhaps now in the huge, disaffected mass of Labour supporters or amongst the politically completely alienated that the richest pickings are to be had.It follows that if UKIP eats into other parties support on an reasonably equal basis, it's rise will increase rather than decrease the chances of Eurosceptic policies being adopted.

In future, perhaps it is Labour that has most to fear from UKIP. Consequently, our rise is just as likely to destroy the prevailing Metropolitan consensus as it is to destroy the fortunes of the Conservative Party.

What a wonderful prospect.