This has brought forth a small deluge of mostly hostile commentary in the press, some from commentators, others from largely Conservative politicians. The insults have flown "Swivel eyed" etc, the condescension dripped. "'UKIP were relevant 15 years ago", said George Eustice MP on Newsnight, "But now we have a robust Eurosceptic as Prime Minister they are irrelevant".The immediate default response to a perceived threat to the cosy consensus, is not to listen, but unsurprisingly to turn the guns on the little guy even if he represents largely majority views. England Expects darkly warns:
However I am certain that this will not be the last story of its sort. Birds have told me that an edict has gone out from the coalition headquarters to friendly editors that UKIP must be hit hard. So I expect that in the next couple of weeks we will see a few more stories like this, dredged up, polished and presented to the public.Naturally the MSM will oblige albeit with an additional bizarre and contradictory mixture of hostility, bewilderment and belated 'chin-stroking-what-does-it-all-mean' commentary, such as this from Iain Martin in Standpoint (my emphasis):
This is not just a Conservative problem. All the large mainstream British parties are in trouble and do not know how to respond to deep unpopularity, public resentment and the erosion of traditional boundaries. The Conservative response seems to consist mainly of pointing out that Labour leader Ed Miliband and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg are more unpopular than David Cameron.
Iain Martin gets it wrong. That the 'mainstream' British parties are in trouble is true, but they do know how to respond to the problem. They are perfectly aware of the public resentment and the causes for it. Opinion polls, canvassing, letters to MPs, focus groups all tell them the details, as do comments under MSM articles. Trevor Kavanagh in today's Sun notes regarding the threat to the Tories due to Ukip (my emphasis):This seems to be more than just a blip. Those in the Westminster village who say that the British have long mistrusted their leaders are underestimating the scale of alienation and potential for further fragmentation in a system that is so widely mistrusted. Turnout at the last general election was only 65.1 per cent; until 2001, turnouts were above 70 per cent. Britons have long moaned that voting changes nothing, but a greater number believe it true enough to not bother taking part than did even 20 years ago.
UKIP will do well in the 2014 European poll, but it would be bizarre if David Cameron allows it to pinch Tory votes in the General Election.Cameron's 'phantom veto' last year lead to a dramatic poll rise for the Conservatives made it perfectly clear what it takes to respond to resentment. They know. So it's utterly revealing that Cameron et al don't kill the issue stone dead. The lack of response to public anger is not ignorance by the main parties, but through choice...and crucially it's a choice for them because they can. And therein lies all that is wrong with our system of government.
The PM could kill the threat stone dead.
All he needs is an IN-OUT referendum on Britain’s EU membership to be held at the same time as the General Election.
Democracy is often seen as a positive process, basically you vote for a party who is more likely to be on your side, whereas in my view it's a negative process - a power to vote them out to force them to listen. To paraphrase Lincoln;
"[the] government of the people, by the people, for the people...or else"And it's the rapidly deteriorating power to prick the consensus means that sadly I'm coming to the conclusion that our system has gone beyond reform within. While I wish Ukip good luck in the local elections, in order to win they have to play the game - where the odds are very heavily stacked against them. Even if they managed to, eventually, form a coalition or even form a government they face a very hostile establishment which will hamper them all the way. Just leaving the Lisbon Treaty alone requires 2 years of negotiations - a daunting task for any party let alone one that is inexperienced in the process of government and dealing with a pro-EU civil service. Instead I increasingly feel we need a 'cold' reboot of the system.
And it's for this reason I will be an attendee at the meeting in July for the Old Swan Manifesto. Its outcomes or influence is not yet clear. But politics like nature abhors a vacuum, with rapid disengagement from the political process we have to somehow fill that vacuum with something workable and reasonable. The consequences of the failure to do so doesn't bear thinking about.