Posted by: davidjmarlow | 26/05/2014

UKIPs glass half full…(Y)UK’s glass half empty…

It is difficult to see any redeeming features in either UKIP’s performance in local and EU elections this week, or in media reporting of them. Farage’s ‘earthquake’ and ‘fox in the hen house’ metaphors probably sum it up best – in terms of the bloody, destructive, pervasive, almost totally indiscriminate mess that ‘earthquakes’ and ‘foxes in hen houses’ wreak on their victims. Farage’s mastery of PR over any modicum of constructive political substance and values; and the laziness of the media in taking him on (witness their reporting of those two metaphors), bodes very badly for the UK.

This blog has commented repeatedly in the last couple of years on the most probable Cameron/Clegg legacy – break-up of the UK, detachment from the civilising influence of ‘Europe’, and the supremacy of a nasty, intolerant, ‘little Englander’ parochialism. How does UK politics and civic values reinvent itself in the face of overwhelming political apathy (turnout for both elections was around 35%), a cynical manipulative UKIP. ineffective and lacklustre mainstream party leaders and media? And where can we find the seeds for the fight back?

I suppose the first response is to try and retain a sense of perspective. With a turnout in the mid 30’s, UKIP’s 17% in local elections represents 1 in 17 of those eligible to vote; whilst the EU vote represents less than 1 in 10 of eligible voters. Some commentators have pointed out that UKIPs performance in the local elections represents a 5% swing AGAINST them compared to 2013 – and given the coincidence with the EU poll ought to have benefited UKIP, this is actually a major setback. Similarly, UKIP’s EU results presumably benefited massively from the collapse of the BNP vote from 6.3% in 2009 to 1.1% this week.

The second response needs to look at the results with a more granular sense of place. One presumes that Farage is a big fan of ‘The Only Way is Essex’ (TOWIE). I have never watched this myself, but the clips I have seen does suggest an ignorant, apolitical pastiche of young people with rather pointless, shallow lives. An extraordinary 27% of UKIP seats won nationally are in ‘Greater Essex’ (45 in all), with twelve in Basildon, six in Thurrock, and five each in Southend, Castle Point and Harlow. The ‘failure’ of the coalition to progress the Thames Gateway South Essex regeneration programme, and of local councils (unitary, district and county) to provide compelling leadership of place needs examination and redress. The contrast with those parts of ‘traditional’ Essex within London is revealing. Labour victories in Barking & Dagenham and Redbridge make these boroughs ‘UKIP-free’ zones, whilst Tory leadership of Havering was exposed with 12 ‘Residents Association’ and 7 UKIP gains in the 54 seat council.

Before its boundaries were redrawn in 2010, Basildon used to be a ‘bell-weather’ parliamentary constituency for national elections. Whilst, it is difficult to claim that ‘where goes TOWIE, so goes the UK’, there does appear to be some read-across from UKIP’s South Essex and Havering success to other areas where it did well – Huntingdonshire (7); Adur, Cannock Chase (six each); Wyre Forest (5) – and particularly to their Lincolnshire successes in 2013. Large white British population districts with rather inchoate identities, feeling neglected by the Tory county council, is fertile breeding ground for the UKIP confidence-trick.

Great Yarmouth and Rotherham (10 seats each); Dudley (9); and North East Lincolnshire (8), on the other hand, present major lessons for Labour – for delivering regeneration, cohesion and economic reinvention, in the hinterlands of core city regions and/or at ‘end-of-line’ peripheries of struggling coastal communities.

Encouragingly, the UKIP message has little traction in London, and many of the other urban drivers of England’s economies. UKIP’s poor London performance (Havering notwithstanding) was matched in the eight core cities. Only four UKIP councillors were returned across the eight (three in Sheffield – presumably a Rotherham-type effect – and one in Bristol). Similarly, major ‘regional cities’ – from Sunderland in the north to Southampton in the south, via places like Oxford, Cambridge, Coventry, Norwich, Ipswich – are UKIP free.

Pushing on with enhanced devolution to major cities and their hinterlands (whether metropolitan, unitary or two tier) gives an opportunity for real places to shape a future, liberated from national UKIP-inspired hopelessness and negativism. However, the notion of ‘strategic counties’ – recently proposed by both politicians and by think tanks that should know better – needs much further unpacking and refining post the 2014 TOWIE and 2013 Lincolnshire experiences.

My third response concerns redressing the pervasive imagery and PR of UKIP as anti-establishment, rather ‘jolly’, maverick counters to cynical career politicians detached from the ‘real world’. The media colludes in this exercise, though it is patently absurd. Take UKIP’s success in winning the Euro-elections in my old regional stamping ground of the East of England. You couldn’t make up anything more of a caricature of the reviled inbred English political class as the three elected UKIP MEPs.

Top of the list is Patrick O’Flynn whose ‘day job’ is UKIP Director of (mis-)Communications, having formerly been political correspondent and Editor for the Daily Express. Second, is 29 year old Tim Aker, whose ‘day job’ is Head of the UKIP Policy Unit, having stepped up from the Taxpayers Alliance. Third is Stuart Agnew, of the landed Norfolk gentry, graduate of the ‘royal’s school’ of Gordonstoun, and living at EU taxpayers expense since his MEP election in 2009. In short, 542,000 East of England voters (or a frightening one in eight of those eligible) were duped into allowing three privileged political apparatchiks with barely a days ‘honest’ non political work between them to live off the largesse of a political institution that they claim to despise. Once the public recognise UKIP politicians are ‘just like the rest’; as much part of the political bubble, but with more hypocrisy and less integrity; then a more marginal level of electoral support should ensue.

And I suppose ‘integrity’ should be my final point for this blog, in the aftermath of the week’s debacles. Instead of ‘respecting UKIP voters’, and attempting to ‘brake’ apathy, and the drift to intolerance and hopelessness, by outflanking UKIP ‘easy-populism’ on the EU and immigrants, mainstream political leaders need to spend at least part of the summer looking honestly at themselves.

If he has any integrity, Clegg will swallow his pride, apologise and resign. Does he really want to be remembered as the leader who took the LibDems into their only spell in government since the second world war, and laid the foundations for the break-up of the UK and departure from Europe?

Clegg’s choice is much easier than Ed Miliband’s. Personally, I would vote for Ed, although he is not (yet) one of my Labour ‘heroes’. But deep down, in his heart, and with a recovering economy, he knows he will either NOT be PM next year, or he will be PM of a coalition of the rejected and discredited. I think Ed is an honourable man, and wants the best for our country. Can he do the right thing bravely and quickly; and can Labour make the most of it?

There needs to be a progressive, outward and forward-looking alternative to the Tory/UKIP actual or virtual coalition of Little-Englander patriarchy. There are the seeds of this in parts of Labour, Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party – especially post-Clegg, possibly post-Miliband. The big issue today is whether we need to await the break-up of the UK, and the subsequent Tory/UKIP-led exit from the EU, before someone decides to plant, nurture and grow them.


  1. […] blog has alluded several times, over the past eighteen month, to my nightmare of a ‘yes’ vote in Scotland’s […]

  2. […] a massive con trick, giving the Scottish voter an illusion that they were voting on independence. UKIP is a similarly huge, grotesque deception – professional politician misfits pretending to be ‘ordinary people’ to reap the […]

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