Friday, 3 May 2013

A moving tale of simple country folk

Despite all the rubbishing remarks from the main parties, UKIP (the UK Independence Party) did quite well in yesterday's County Council elections. It seems that something like 25% of those who voted gave UKIP their thumbs up. In consequence the Conservative Party have lost control of a number of councils, the Labour Party has been robbed of a big comeback, and the LibDem Party has been battered. I can see Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg unseated within the year.

It looks as if UKIP is the brash and popular new kid on the block - for now. They need to build on this success rapidly if they want to keep their momentum going for the 2015 General Election. In political terms, that's still a long way off, and plenty can happen meanwhile to spoil their game.

For one thing, David Cameron could promote UKIP-like policies, so that the Conservatives steal their thunder, and take away any reason for electing a UKIP candidate to Parliament. In fact, I'm sure he will do this, having had proof that such policies are in tune with the national mood. It will appease many on the right wing of his party, who will see it as a way of ensuring a Conservative win in 2015. That's an outright win, sans the LibDems, a win that would give the Conservatives total freedom to pursue whatever policies they wish, and ignore those they don't like. It will involve taking a tough line with continental Europe, but then that's classic Tory Territory, the instinctive stance of a Conservative Government. It's what Maggie would have done.

However, I don't think that UKIP are vulnerable just yet.

Looking at them as a political force, they have clearly got many people on their side. They have come from the fringe to the influential position the LibDems enjoyed before the coalition government came into being in 2010. But instead of seeming old and stale, they are new and fresh. If they can add value to their message - add positive ideas that sound sensible instead of merely being against central beauracracy and immigration - they could increase their share of the vote still further, and hurt the main parties badly. They must also stop being a one-man band. Nigel Farage can't be the only front person. There must be a full Cabinet-in-waiting.

This is what was in UKIP's 2013 Local Election Manifesto:

This has been a remarkable year for
UKIP. We have beaten the government
in three Westminster by-elections, and
40% of people say they are considering
voting UKIP across the country. Our
arguments are driving the mainstream
political debate today.
Why vote UKIP in your local elections?
UKIP stands for bringing power back
where it belongs – with the people. We
believe that local councils should be
more directly responsive to local people,
and less in thrall to central government.
Elected councillors should put their
communities first, not party politics.
Important local issues should be put to
binding referenda. Councils should exist
to serve their communities, not just
spend their money.
Today, local communities are under
attack. The Government is taking money
away from local councils, but continuing
to give more and more away to the EU,
and foreign aid.
Plus, on 1 January 2014, the UK will
open its doors to unlimited numbers of
people from Romania and Bulgaria.
Another 29 million people will be entitled
to come here – not just to work, but to
take advantage of our benefits, housing,
schools and health services.
Many Bulgarians live in real poverty,
while Romania has major social
problems. Both countries suffer from
institutionalised crime and an unstable
grip on democracy and the law.
So if we want to keep the National
Health Service free, prevent developers
from concreting over the countryside,
and protect our pensioners and our
young people seeking work, something
must be done.
Millions of people have voted for UKIP
in recent elections, and we now have
councillors all round the country – taking
responsibility in local government, saving
taxpayers money, rolling up our sleeves,
working hard and serving the people.

Look at what they claim:

# 40% national support.
# A big influence on current governmental thinking.
# Money is being filched from local government, and given to foreigners.
# Less than a year ahead, up to 29 million foreigners could flood into the UK, with all that implies.
# These incomers are desperate, lawless and unprincipled: they will ruin the countryside, and the lives of our people young and old.
# Meanwhile, developers are being given a free hand to build where they like. (Presumably they mean foreign developers)
# UKIP councillors work their socks off on behalf of local communities.

And, apart from immigration controls, they'd like to see:

# Independence for local councils - no central government interference, nor adherence to national policies that run counter to local interests.
# Local referenda on local issues.

I imagine that in a General Election held tomorrow UKIP would have much the same programme, because they have tapped into the concerns and worries of small-town Britain, the Britain of little communities that feel forgotten by the national planners. UKIP are appealing to the grass-roots myths of Merrie England. Nigel Farage is a modern Robin Hood, is he not? And by saying this, I'm not poking fun. I can see that UKIP could do very well by defending the Ordinary English Person against Invading Foreigners.

There really is serious concern in Eastern England, in the Lincolnshire Fens especially, because so many Eastern European persons have taken up residence there. It must be very unsettling to see the traditional English character of a place change in a short time to something more cosmopolitan. Big cities have long been accustomed to this, and in London for instance it seems just part of the vibrant flavour of the place. But it's a new thing for small country towns, and they can be (or seem) overwhelmed so much more easily. In places like Wisbech the exotic is unwanted and intimidating, and it generates uneasiness and fear. I think UKIP's message is listened to very intently in such a spot. 

Governments tend to mostly consider the needs of city-dwellers, and not those who live in the sticks, below their radar. That needs to change. 

I do hope UKIP fail in their bid to tear us all away from Europe, and that they will never be able to round up foreigners and thrust them onto ferries. But they have at least spoken up for people who live in the country. 

It's not all about too many unEnglish faces, or stopping a rash of housing estates, or making the HS2 rail link go away. The countryside is an asset to be managed carefully, and needs to be included in the national plan on an equal footing with the cities. Too often it seems that the countryside is regarded simply as the place where unwanted stuff is dumped. Excess population, nuclear power stations, city landfill. Clapped-out cars that have failed their MOT. Old mattresses, old fridges, and all the other staples of the fly-tipper. 

The countryside was once idolised as a national treasure, a place of great value. Now it seems half-forgotten and underrated, and its inhabitants might well feel the same way. Naturalists, archaeologists and the National Trust may defend the land that remains. But who will defend the people themselves? UKIP have seen an opportunity.

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