UKIP’s rise is not what I think a flash in the pan. Coming from a member of said party, I doubt that will hold much weight at all. I think a significant proportion of the British people though have found solitude and sympathy with the policies and views of UKIP’s right wing and somewhat populist rhetoric. Why? Because it has come from UKIP, because it is from a party that looks and feels anti-establishment – especially with Farage’s somewhat ‘man of the people’ image. Were the rhetoric and the policies to come from the Conservatives however… the swell in support for the Tories will not be as prevalent as it it with UKIP.
Why would it not be the same case for the Tories? Because they are the Conservative Party, because they are the Tory Party, the party of Thatcher, the party that had brought economic ruin on the industrial north*, the party that has a leader with an image of “an out of touch upper class bloke dictating the running of the country from his country home in Oxfordshire,” saying he sympathises with the (patronisingly put) ‘hardworking people’. The word ‘Tory’ can make a bloke from the North so angry. The day of Thatcher’s passing brought my local Tory Club in Knaresborough (North Yorkshire) to be stoned and smashed up. That’s the consequence of the Tory image, and please do not think I revel in that. I exploit its image, because I’m a political activist from the opposition, but I am sad that it is around and prevalent. The image of the Tories I depicted above is widely held across Britain, even Tory MPs agree with it. Tim Loughton of Worthing has said there is an unfair concentration of Tory leaders that have come from Eton or Oxbridge, harming the party image. Nadine Dorries of Bedfordshire has spoken of the disconnect of Cameron and Osborne with that of the working Britons and summarises this with their ignorance to the price of milk. Such saying, “do you know the price of milk” has been used by journalists repeatedly, Jeremy Paxman for example asking Boris the price of milk, bread, a bottle of wine or a bread maker for instance…
But back to the point of this piece, the Tories have been falling in the polls. Marginal seat polling has seen UKIP overtake them in a number of areas: Grimsby and Thanet South for instance. UKIP are supposedly “stealing their votes” and should “lay off our [Tory] marginals” for want of the arrogant phrase coined by respectable MP Bill Cash. Even were Tory support to stay level in 2015, but UKIP were to surge, a Labour majority would be likely, simply because of first past the post… so, what should the Tories do?
The easiest option for the Tories to win back support would be to pander to the rhetoric and policy of UKIP. Alas, this will not help. Were the Tories as a party to adopt policies that are economically more right wing than Thatcher, and social policies incredibly sceptical of multiculturalism, they would be crucified. The words ‘Nasty Party’ would ring true forever more and a Labour majority that would shame Tony Blair could ensure. If the Farage-rhetoric came from the Tories, it won’t work. We Britons are a sceptical people now, too long abused by broken promises and party political trickery. They simply do not trust the sincerity of David Cameron. The image of being a party of upper class corruption and the dismissive nature towards those who disagree with them (swivel eyed loons) stays strong, it will hurt them. Couple that with the ‘Nasty Party’ image by chasing UKIP will seal their electoral defeat for eternity. The people do not want a party that will became a false copy of the original. Who will Britons choose: real UKIP, or a UKIP copy?
The Conservative Party is the oldest party in existence, it has survived because it has done something which is completely at odds with its now misleading name, it’s adapted, it’s been progressive, it’s kept up with the society around it and attempts to preserve that society. When the Great Reform Act was passed, the Tories adapted to the political landscape that had suddenly changed. The Tories adapted to Home Rule in Ireland and its eventual independence, despite their stubborn opposition to anything of the sort beforehand. They adapted to the loss of the Empire, viewing Britain as more of a nation that could be great and strong internally instead of being a military and colonial superpower. They adapted to Clement Attlee’s landslide and the post-war consensus of a National Health Service and a Welfare State, and they have finally attempted to adapt to the opposition decade after Blair’s landslide in ’97. Some say the Tories did not win an overall majority because of UKIP. I think not, I blame the constituency boundaries that are heavily in favour of Labour, and the still carrying failure to adapt to a party post Mrs Thatcher. But, how can they adapt post Thatcher? Alas, I don’t think they can. They are The Conservative Party after all. The name itself bangs the flame of Thatcherism.
Attempts at pandering to UKIP aren’t working. The referendum promise was found disbelieving. The ‘go home’ fans were pounced on as racist. The changes to immigrants on welfare was found to be unsubstantial. All of these were seen as pandering to UKIP, and therefore found to be disbelieving, further validating the rise of UKIP!
So I say this to the Conservative Party. I’m sorry, but the time of being the sole party of the right is over, a multi party state is coming. It won’t be just UKIP that will be a new player. The Greens are on course for a breakthrough soon, as are Respect amongst the ethnic minority vote when the time is right. The anger at not finding a party that represents many people’s views could be finally coming to the forefront. Voters who are angry won’t stay in bed on polling day like they did before, they will go out and vote with a vengeance for UKIP, for the Greens, for Respect, and even for this ‘Left Unity’, although the latter two to a lesser extent and the Greens still have a long way to catch up with UKIP. These voters won’t just vote out of anger, they will vote because they might have found a party that they truly believe in. Take the South Yorkshire/Humberside towns for instance. Such area was on the brink of a Lib Dem surge in 2010, some seats could’ve fallen from from the Labour stranglehold into the yellow peril lap such as some in Hull, but they didn’t, because the Lib Dems weren’t right wing enough. There is a centre right vote out there in the north that the Tories will never win, thanks to Thatcher. The BNP flirted with it back in the last decade but now UKIP is hoovering that support up, the centre right is uniting behind UKIP in those seats, replacing Team Blue as the main challenger to Labour. So long as Mrs Thatcher’s legacy will last, this is unlikely to change. Even post EU withdrawal, I dare say UKIP will stay around, but perhaps at lesser strength. The time for a populist right has come, but the centre right needs to remain strong, and will. Yes, the Conservatives will lose many council seats to UKIP, and maybe even a constituency come the GE, but such is the cost of adapting to change. Certain Tory branches have come to terms with the rise of UKIP, and whilst I shan’t name names they privately admit that UKIP has a far better chance of winning their local seat at the next election than they ever will… and as such, that branch might not put in as much effort as they would were UKIP not present. They admit that UKIP will be a deciding factor of 2015. Can the Tories realise this, and give up on pandering to UKIP? Stay on course to be the party that David Cameron wanted it to be. There will be pains, there will be screams, there will be defections, but such is the cost. Focus your efforts on attacking Labour, and live with the arrival of rising new parties.
I must add, before the comment thread attacks me for thinking UKIP could win seats. Do not assume they won’t. New UKIP is on radical maneuvers, campaigning at a rate never seen before. I do not doubt the Survation polls commissioned by Alan Bown will be used by UKIP in South Thanet mercilessly, triggering a possible desertion of the Tory vote only seen in Canada back in 1993.
Pander to UKIP, copy UKIP policy, and you will win over the UKIP vote. You will win that battle, but you will not win the general election. Imagine the centrist Tory vote? Do you seriously think that will stay loyal?
*I worship Margaret Thatcher to quite an extent, but even I realise economic damage was brought on the North. We were a nation too concentrated on nationalised industries. No satisfactory replacement of industries in places like Blackburn has ever really emerged yet. Cities like Leeds though have recovered well.