Grant Woodward: Complacent Tories miss the point over Ukip

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“A BUNCH of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.” David Cameron’s scathing verdict on Ukip may not have been given another public airing since it was delivered in 2006, but tellingly it’s never been retracted. Since then we’ve heard how senior Tories dismiss Nigel Farage and his supporters as “swivel-eyed loons”.

It’s all symptomatic of the Conservatives’ continued refusal to take Ukip seriously.

Yet the clichéd stereotype of a fringe party populated by retired Majors who spend most of their time swigging gin at the golf club is so far wide of the mark that the Tories are threatening to sleepwalk into disaster.

New research shows that the bedrock of the Ukip support are actually disenchanted white, working class voters who no longer see the Conservatives as the party of opportunity. And last week’s Budget only reinforced this sense. For all the talk of the cost of living crisis, there was nothing in George Osborne’s red box for the working man or woman still struggling to keep their head above water.

Revolutions tend not to occur when things are bad and getting worse. They usually happen when things are getting better, but not as quickly as people expect.

While the Government keep telling us the recovery is gathering pace, there is still little evidence that better times are just around the corner for those at the sharp end.

Raising the ISA threshold is not going to do anything for the working poor who haven’t got £15,000 to feed their families, never mind squirrel away in an ISA.

As worthy as talk of rebuilding the savings ethic is (and there is no denying that we lived beyond our means for too long), the Budget contained no measures to help those who have seen their living standards plummet over the last five years.

The only measure that could be said to assist those on low incomes was the move to raise the bottom tax bracket to take more people out of paying any tax at all. Yet this was only there to keep the Lib Dems happy. If it hadn’t been for the coalition, would it even have been given a moment’s thought?

In the Budget’s raft of pension and savings reform, the Conservatives showed their naked ambition when it comes to the voters they’re targeting ahead of the next general election. But in betting the house on pensioners and savers – and failing to realise they’re not the groups most likely to throw their weight behind Ukip – the Tories could be sowing the seeds of their own downfall.

The big issue for Ukip voters, we’re told, is immigration. There are still a million young people out of work and the generation of blue collar workers who pledged allegiance to Margaret Thatcher’s vision of aspiration and allegiance now fear their sons and daughters are losing out on jobs to foreign workers.

To combat this, the Tories have too often lapsed into gimmickry – such as the controversial “Go Home” vans and chunterings about an all-but-unworkable plan to charge foreigners for NHS treatment to counter health tourism. And that’s about it.

The Ukip point is that the Government can do nothing about immigration because policy is decided by Europe. Yet the Tory complacency embodied in the oft-repeated soundbite that only a vote for them in 2015 will ensure a vote on whether or not we stay in the EU ignores the fact that this alone isn’t going to rein in those disenchanted enough to vote for Ukip. What we’re seeing is a growing rejection of two-party politics.

David Cameron’s biggest problem is the sense that he leads a Government hopelessly divorced from the reality of pay packet Britain.

Given that five of the six authors of the next Tory manifesto went to Eton, how on earth can it relate to the average man in the street? Michael Gove appears to be the only top Tory who grasps how this all looks to the world outside the Westminster bubble, condemning the concentration of Old Etonians in Number 10 as “ridiculous”.

Instead of listening, however, David Cameron gave him the hairdryer treatment, with one source gleefully revealing that “he was torn a new one and given a right royal b******ing”.

With such a mindset it’s hardly surprising the Budget had nothing to give struggling households hope between now and 2018 when it’s projected that Britain will finally be back in the black.

If revolution is in the air, and George Osborne is playing Marie Antoinette to David Cameron’s Louis XVI, then “let them eat ISAs” has a certain ring to it.

grant.woodward@ypn.co.uk