Cameron’s Painful Swing

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.

Yummy Polls

It has been a while since we’ve discussed politics and my secret love: opinion polls. Yes, those dreary meaningless statistics that bear little relation to the real world are the small skirmishes between the battles and one such battle is approaching – Thursday’s local elections. Yesterday’s ComRes poll has the Conservatives on 32%, Labour 38%, UKIP 13% and Liberal Democrats trailing with 9%, but of course that is nationally and the elections that are taking place will not be fought under proportional representation. No indeed, these elections are going to be decided with good ole fashioned utterly bonkers first-past-the-post.

As a believer in electoral reform I should be shaking my head in disgust at how skewed the results on Thursday are likely to be, but there is a certain element of chickens coming home to roost, as it is the Conservatives who are about to taste a mouthful of feathers from the upstart right wing UKIP. The left has spent at least three decades being split and now it is the turn of the right. Even though support for right wing policies are on the rise (euro-scepticism, anti-immigration), having the vote split between two parties will help the liberals and labour parties in areas that they are consolidated enough not to bring down each other, a problem they and their supporters have grown accustomed to through years of bloody battles.

So ironically the Lib Dems best hope is Farage, and right now they should be delivering UKIP’s leaflets as well as their own. The more the Conservatives pull to the right to steal UKIP votes, the more sensible conservatives will flock to centrist Liberal Democrats, and the more to the left the Tories pull to defeat Lib Dems, the more they will lose to UKIP.

The only party that seems excluded from all this fun is Labour, who are still stuck with the same share of the vote they have had for ages with little impetus either way. Ed Miliband has been accused of turning his party into the party of protest (simply saying boo to cuts without giving any solution) but if that was his aim the plan backfired. No one wants to register their protest vote with Labour.

And then there’s the Greens who somehow, in a time of global warming, widespread disaffection with politics and grossly unpopular cuts, have managed to make themselves entirely irrelevant.

A UKIP Assessment

Google UKIP and the first line in their autobiographical blurb reads: “Libertarian, non-racist party seeking Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.” Frankly, if one of the first things an organisation needs to say about themselves is that they’re ‘non-racist’, people should be slightly worried. But before their, slightly guilty sounding, profession of non-racism, they highlight their libertarianism, so they can’t be all bad, surely?

Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader by European Parliament

Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader by European Parliament

“We, The People” is the title of the UKIP local election manifesto, which carries the rather patronising tag-line of being “straight-talking” which at best means ‘simplified’, and at worst ”dumbed down’. But, without feeling too prejudiced, lets jump on in.

UKIP claim to be a party of localism, pulling power away from national and international bodies and putting it in the hands of local people. A big part of this, unsurprisingly, is withdrawal from the EU, but despite their name, there is more to them than just this one policy.

Like most of the smaller parties, UKIP favour electoral reform, switching from FPTP to AV Plus. They also want to devolve power to local authorities, democratically electing members to controlling bodies of health, police and education. Yet at the same time they would abolish regional government, which seems slightly muddled. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they intend to devolve so much power to councils that these regional governments would no longer be necessary, but this does seem unlikely.

Interestingly, UKIP favour scrapping VAT and replacing it with a local sales tax that would raise money for the council instead of the standard council tax. This is an alternative to the Lib Dem policy of creating a local income tax to counter council tax, and both parties have it right that council tax needs to go. The flaw in the UKIP approach is that if authorities can set their own local tax, then there will be too much competition to cut this tax to draw shoppers to the area. Sometimes it’s easy to cross boundaries and I fear there would soon become tax-haven local authorities in rich areas that do not need as much council tax revenue and can afford to charge less, thus creating more trade and becoming even richer.

On the deficit, UKIP are against front-line cuts, but would scrap all ‘non-jobs’. I’m rather dubious about the existence of non-jobs. I guess people consider all jobs ‘non-jobs’ until they find out what the actual nature of the work is. In reality this policy is rather empty and crafted to simply sound pleasing.

On immigration, the party would like to freeze permanent settlement for five years as well as withhold state benefits from immigrants for five years and stop all cash benefits going to non-Brits. Whilst population control is an important subject, deliberately making life difficult for immigrants would only create a criminal underclass. I fear such policies would have disastrous effects.

Whilst there are policies on all sorts of areas, I’d like to point to one last section on the environment which includes ending all money going towards tackling climate change and banning wind farms. The money saved would be invested in nuclear energy and ‘clean’ coal. Whilst they are right to look at alternatives to oil, simply shutting off the possibility of getting energy from renewable sources does seem blinkered.

In conclusion, UKIP appear to be deeply confused. On the one hand they endorse the importance of liberty and devolved power, but only agree with that power being used to implement conservative policies (which are often very authoritarian).

So is UKIP a party worth supporting? If you want us to pull out of the EU right away, then yes. The Conservative party is split too deeply on the issue for throwing support behind them to have the effect you’d like. On the other hand, if you are a libertarian then the liberals is the place for you. However if you are ‘fake libertarian’ (you believe in freedom, but only freedom for a select few doing things you personally believe in) then the Conservatives is the party to get behind.

My prediction for UKIP is a healthy gain in local elections, but not significant enough to warrant much attention. The real story will be the river of liberal blood flowing through the streets…

On The Subject Of Green

Like many in the centre-left of British politics, I have a certain sympathy for the Green party. Like them, I feel that environmentalism should be given a much higher priority along with animal welfare and the preservation of the natural world. I would like to see the Green party have more influence in parliament.

Unfortunately the Green Party disagrees.

The shocking lack of foresight in the Greens suggests that they are ether dangerously naïve about our political system, or more concerned with their ego than getting actual influence. There is no way the greens can make strong gains in first-past-the-post. Maybe in thirty years or so, after many gruelling elections, slowly raising their profile, but not in any way soon enough to start tackling the big issues like climate change.

The Green Party, like their right wing equivalent UKIP, need Proportional Representation to have their voice heard. There is only one main party that has promised to deliver this: the Liberal Democrats.

At this the Greens always scoff, “oh, but the Lib Dems aren’t as green as we are, they don’t go far enough!”, but they miss the point. It does not matter if the Liberals want to burn all our forests and force cows to drink pop to increase their burps tenfold, what matters is getting PR for the next election so the Greens stand a chance in the future.

“What about Tony Blair,” they cry. “He promised electoral reform back in 1997, and never delivered!” True, but Blair only said that when he thought he needed the Liberals to prop him up. When he found himself with a massive majority those promises were meaningless, after all, his own party didn’t want PR.

The Liberal Democrats do want it. It’s not a ploy by their leadership but a genuine heart-felt commitment by every member of the party. If they get in, they’ll do it.

But still the Greens refuse to throw their weight behind the Liberal Democrats, instead they let their naivety and their egos get the better of them, splitting the liberal-left vote and allowing the Tories to make gains. UKIP, whilst normally deranged, at least have the sense to recognise the type of political system we’re stuck with. They often step aside if they approve of the Tory candidate. No point splitting the right wing vote if it lets in a europhile.

Incidentally, in the European elections which are based upon a system of PR, I voted Green. In that system they stand a chance. Sadly they don’t in ours, and they’re destroying their chances of influence by standing in it. Grow up Greens, get your eyes on the real prize.

– Not a clever move.