THERE is one certainty to be drawn from this year’s town hall elections and the spectacular successes achieved by the United Kingdom Independence Party. This is a political movement which can longer be dismissed as a ‘protest party’ – even before the results of the European elections are counted.
These are not the apathetic who are totally disengaged from day-to-day politics. These are a significant, and growing, number of people who feel that their views have been ignored for far too long by the main parties, and that they respect Nigel Farage’s ability to speak his mind on a range of issues.
Despite the hostile media portrayal of Ukip, and the deeply offensive remarks made by a tiny minority of the party’s more injudicious candidates, these voters are not ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” – the derogatory and dismissive phrase first used by David Cameron in 2006 and which remains symptomatic of the complacency shown by the main parties.
Even though Ukip still does not have a single MP, or overall control of a solitary local authority, it has now become – for example – the official opposition in towns like Rotherham where Labour has faced no significant opposition for decades as well as being the new voice of Essex in the Home Counties.
Yet, while the party did not convert its support in West Yorkshire into a meaningful number of councillors, its advances now mean that Ukip does have a local apparatus in place to enable Mr Farage to become an even more significant player in next year’s general election, especially if he continues to prosper from the financial benevolence of Yorkshire entrepreneur Paul Sykes.
Much will, of course, depend on the ability of Ukip’s newly-elected councillors, and MEPs, to prove themselves as serious politicians who can make a constructive contribution – whether it be the EU or issues like health, education and welfare.
Equally telling will be the response of the Tories. Even though Mr Cameron is the only Westminster leader committed to offering voters a referendum on EU membership, the centre-right chasm between Tories and Ukip would actually see the pro-European Ed Miliband enter Downing Street if Thursday’s poll result was replicated in next year’s general election.
A promised Cabinet reshuffle, every PM’s default response to disappointing mid-term election results, will not appease those mutinous Conservatives who warned yesterday that “the carry on regardless, business as usual approach still being advocated by the leadership isn’t going to work”.
Yet, despite the threat to Tory unity, the biggest loser was, in fact, the party that won the most seats and councils – Labour. The seats in question were last fought on the day of the 2010 general election when the party was at its lowest ebb and it is clear that many people are underwhelmed by Mr Miliband and his cost of living agenda.
As for the Liberal Democrats, they will draw comfort from the fact that their support held up in those areas where Nick Clegg’s party has established MPs. And they also recognised the fact that politicians need to find new ways of engaging with voters rather than talking down to them in a condescending manner.
The question now is whether this will be sufficient to withstand the inevitable after-shocks that will be precipitated by the political earthquake that Nigel Farage promised and delivered. Perhaps it is the wake-up call that British politics needs to end the culture of complacency that has played into the hands of Ukip, and which leaves the outcome of next year’s election too close to call.
King and country: Why Richard III deserves better
IT WAS slightly disingenuous of Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, to accuse descendants of Richard III of wasting public money after the High Court rejected their campaign for the remains of the Plantagenet king to be buried in Yorkshire.
This top Tory is effectively saying that the doctrine of finders’ keepers – Richard’s remains were found under a Leicester council car park – should take precedence over his historical links to Yorkshire, and which have been expressed so eloquently during this high-profile campaign and that attracted the support of 60,000 signatories on a petition.
These people will feel that they have been cheated out of the democratic and open debate that should have taken place over such an important chapter in Britain’s history. As Gerard Clarke, legal counsel to the distant relatives, pointed out to the High Court, these are “not just any old bones” but the remains of the last English king to do battle.
As such, they deserve to be treated with the same reverence that continues to be afforded to so many of this country’s great military leaders.