Monday 6 May 2013
So, the United Kingdom Independence Party has won 147 seats on our county councils. I wonder what they're going to do? I've never served on a council, but I understand that the work, though important, is mostly tedious and time-consuming, and that flashes of political excitement are rare
These 147 proud bearers of the Ukip standard will soon find that their county councils do not have the power to withdraw from the European Union, or even call a referendum on it. I suppose they could, in a fit of pique, refuse to accept any of the EU's regional development funds. Nor have the county councils the power to to send immigrants "home." Indeed if they tried that in this area they would find that to the overwhelming majority of the people they appear to be unhappy about this is home, and they have thick Yorkshire accents to prove it. And the 147 can't even impose their regressive "flat rate" taxation ideas (shades of Mrs Thatcher and the Poll Tax?) as the only tax coucnils can vary, the council tax, is tiered.
A few years ago there was a similar wave of support for the British National Party (BNP) and a few, I think three, were elected to our council. They soon found that the council's responisilites had litttle to do with their prejucices and, I believe, made few contriutions, soon stopped attending their committees, and either failed to stand again or lost their seats.
With European elections due next year on a crude form of proportional representation I expect the surge of fascination with Ukip will last at least until then. As Daniel Trilling in the New Statesman puts it, their leader Nigel Farage brilliantly articulates their saloon-bar version of politics:
you can’t say what you think in your own country any more, grasping politicians bend over backwards for minorities but do little for the majority, taxpayers are being leeched off by benefit scroungers, and so on.
but on the ground his foot-soldiers will soon find that local politics are neither to their taste nor relevant to their cause, and will fade away as did their BNP predecessors.
That does not mean to say that Ukip will not have performed a useful function. There is a "clowns in British politics" syndrome and it is exmaplified by Prime Minister's Questions and similar parliamentary slapstick, which spills over into petty point scoring in the media. The way poicitics is at present conducted in the UK deservedly leaves a large number of people indiferent and nourishes the belief that the parties are "all the same", that none of them is to be trusted, nor is even capable of changing the way things are.
The remedy is not for the major parties to mimic Ukip but to engage in serious, honest and constructive debate. Ukip have made progress because neither the Conserviatives nor Labour have ever articulated the positve case for Europe. Rather both have fallen into the lazy but populist trap of using the EU as a conveninet whipping boy to blame for any unpopular measures or events.
The Ukip surge provides an excellent opportunity for Cameron and Miliband to join forces with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats and, rather than trying to match Ukip's xenophobia, make the positive case for constructive engagement in the greatest political adventure of the last 60 years.