It has been a while since we discussed politics on this wee blog. Since then we’ve had a local elections, a revolt over Europe, bitter division over gay marriage and the resurgence of terrorism as a political punch-bag. The big picture is one of a nation whose political parties are becoming gross caricatures of their former selves, lurching to extremes rather than straddling the often uncomfortable centre ground where elections were won.
So first off: the local elections. The big shocker of the night was just how crazy the electorate are willing to be to teach the political classes a lesson. UKIP, the cuddly face of the bitter right, managed to poll 23%. Pretty impressive, given that their vote was considered a “wasted vote”, but despite this they polled strong, coming in third behind Labour 29% and the Conservatives on 25%. The Liberal Democrats whimpered into 4th with 14%, disappointing but actually above what they usually poll nationally.
So why care? It’s not as if Nigel Farage’s eurosceptic party managed to gain control of any councils, and with that share of the vote they aren’t going to form the next government. Hell, with our awful first-past-the-post system they are unlikely to secure a single seat. But, as subtle a shift as it had been to the nation at large, to the political classes the shift was seismic.
You see, those loonies that voted UKIP used to vote Conservative. They were Cameron’s loonies, and the party had grown lazy depending upon them to turn out every five or so years to keep up the fight against Labour and the Liberals. Suddenly, the right wing swivel-eyed loon vote is split and now we’re into a four horse race, and this simple change in the landscape has caused all the nonsense we’ve had since.
It has always been Cameron’s agenda to move the Conservative party to the centre right. That was the reason for those painful huskie shots during his time in opposition. Unfortunately the centre is not a place his party likes to sit, as in the centre you can still catch the odd whiff of the unwashed left. And now that their ranks are breaking for UKIP, the pressure has been to follow them, ceding the centre ground to the despised liberals. This panic led them to rebel over their own Queen’s Speech, attempt to sign into law an in-out Europe referendum, try to bring down the gay marriage legislation and lately to stand tough over terrorism with a badly thought through ‘snooper’s charter’.
But it ironic that of all the things that Cameron has got spectacularly wrong, the move towards the centre is one of the few things he got ri… er.. correct. The right of British politics is similar to its left counterpart, the domain of the political pariah. The tory party (against the wisdom of its leadership) is banking on being able to move right and scoop back up the UKIP vote whilst still holding the rest of its support, but this assumption is terribly flawed. A conservative move to the right would allow the liberals to strengthen by appealing to pro-business centre-right conservatives reluctant to support a party that could pull us out of the EU. Moving right would also allow the Labour party to sneak into the centre, saving them from the leftist-protest persona they have fallen into.
David Cameron has become trapped. He needs to stop the UKIP threat, but he has no tools to fight them. So far every attempt by his back benchers to move the party right has simply handed UKIP better poll ratings. If he can’t convince his party of political realities soon they will find themselves in opposition in 2015. Tee hee.