UKIP’s barbarians have smashed through the castle gates

by Kevin Meagher

Amid the whirl of results from South Shields and the English counties, we learned two important things about how the government (Conservative bit) will now approach the next election.

The first is that the Downing Street communications grid is back in operation. The underperforming political machine has been fine-tuned and a new focus has clearly been brought to bear.

Too late to have had the desired effect in the local elections, but we have nevertheless seen a carefully crafted slew of announcements this week, weaponised to help sharpen up the Conservatives’ brand. On Monday it was a crackdown on prisoners’ perks. On Tuesday it was talk of reducing immigrants’ access to public services. On Wednesday, aid cuts to South Africa.

This improvement in the Tories’ political operation and the themes they have chosen to concentrate on is a direct response to this week’s second notable development; they are now terrified about the damage UKIP can now do to them on their right flank.

Once breezily dismissed by David Cameron as a collection of ‘fruitcakes loonies and closet racists’, UKIP has now moved from an existential to actual threat, eating up traditional Tory support and splitting the centre-right vote elsewhere. Many Tories didn’t think this day would actually come, but it is clear UKIP’s barbarians have at last smashed through the castle gates.

Today’s result does not feel like a sudden spike. It’s more like the atrophying of our political system where room is now being opened for new players to capitalise on voters’ unease around issues the mainstream parties simply refuse to engage with.

Next year UKIP will be able to use the threat – real and imagined – of large-scale Bulgarian and Romanian immigration as the basis of a blunt and effective campaign in the European elections. Short of a dramatic gesture like refusing to allow them in – as Labour’s Frank Field suggested in the Spectator yesterday – they will be a bloodbath for the Tories.

Perhaps even for Labour. As Max Wind-Cowie of think tank Demos has persuasively argued, UKIP has an appeal to many working class voters too (brought home by second place in South Shields). Fed up with the metro-liberal assumptions of our Westminster class, UKIP lends a sympathetic ear to voters’ concerns about the changing nature of work and society and all the insecurity and resentment that brings. (Here, Labour is paying the price for sticking its head in the sand on immigration for a decade).

European elections aside, it’s how things pan out at the 2015 general election that will intrigue pundits and horrify party strategists. The permutations are now endless. Would a similar UKIP surge in 2015 act as a Trojan horse, stealing Tory votes and helping Labour in tight marginals? Or will UKIP help drag the contest firmly to the right, exposing Labour’s vulnerabilities on immigration, welfare and Europe?

These two Tory takeaways from a bad week – better political management and a new understanding of the scale of the threat posed by UKIP – explain why Cameron floated the idea in yesterday’s Times of bringing forward legislation guaranteeing a 2017 ‘in/out’ referendum on Europe. Frankly if Cameron was brave enough – which he isn’t – he would hold the referendum on the same day as the general election, allowing right-wing voters to let off steam in the referendum but perhaps still be persuaded to vote Conservative in the election.

It’s unlikely that UKIP will win any seats in 2015, but that’s not necessarily the point. Like the SDP in the 1980s, UKIP’s electoral impact will be to split the centre-right vote and force a recalibration in British politics. Farage’s barmy army will undoubtedly burn-out at some stage; after all, the star that burns brightest burns half as long; but that won’t be before 2015.

And all that may be left behind is the scorched remnants of David Cameron’s shiny modernist Tory party.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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3 Responses to “UKIP’s barbarians have smashed through the castle gates”

  1. Ex-Labour says:

    A good article and logical in most part but perhaps your last sentence slipped into a more party political line.

    As you point out traditional Labour working class voters have been on the wrong side of Labour indifference to immigration, EU interference and regulation, booming welfare spending etc etc. On the other hand UKIP has addressed these head on and found much sympathy with their views.

    Both Labour and Conservative will suffer in 2015 unless they chnage strategy. I can see that the conservatives are doing this and over the next two years will, I think, refine and hone their message. However I dont see Labour doing this at present. They have opposed everything the government has tried to do yet offered nothing of their own. If this continues, and listening to Ed Milibands car crash interview it seems it will as he stands Canute like in the face of public opinion, then the UKIP factor will also hit Labour.

  2. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    Bizarre….I have been warning this will occur for ages and I have a very good idea of what will happen at the General too. I would hardly describe it as “castle gates”, lets be real here MPs have done all they could to offend, insult and betray the public and now the public have found a platform that can be used to strike back. Mps ended the Politics of Left vs Right in favour of ££££ based consensus, now the UKIP party will redefine the whole structure of debate in society and in the Press. MPs have gone too far too many times and have done all they can to prevent this event, this result being avoided. They were warned time and again, Labour more than most, the reaping begins and it has gained momentum….do not underestimate the public mindset, UKIP or Nigel Farage and do not underestimate how dangerous the Main Party leaderships have become to themselves and their “members” and “supporters”.

  3. bob says:

    Kevin: you really are an idiot, it is two years to an election, the view of the people can change and so does the world not just what happens over in the corrupt EUSSR with their monopoly money currency. UKIP has now got traction and hopefully they will give the main three parties a good kicking and just maybe the complaisant political fools at the top of each party and their acolytes will wake up and change or the UKIP steamroller will squash them flat.

    Ex-Labour and Clr Ralph Baldwin: Bang on target.

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