Who knew local council elections could be so interesting? And yet I have a confession to make… I didn’t vote. Not because the three candidates on offer for my local area appalled me, or because I just couldn’t be bothered. An administrative error on the part of the council meant I never received my voting card. For a General Election I would have chased this up, but during exam season I barely have time to cook a decent meal, let alone sort their mistakes out!
The swing in these council elections, and the outcome in the Southshields by-election, suggest that many in the UK have turned their disgust in the three ‘governing parties’ from apathy to another choice- the United Kingdom Independence Party. The party that David Cameron once called “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” are obviously attracting attention from an increasing number of UK voters, giving both our Prime Minister and those in charge of his main opponents a lot to think about.
So why are people voting for UKIP? They do have their strengths- a focus on local politics for starters, as well as simple, key messages that everyone can understand. However, history suggests to us that, rather than the increasing influence of the EU or people’s fears over immigration, the cause is far more simple- economics. Prosperity & politics go hand in hand, and as I’ve said many times before, when times are good then people show less interest in the political situation of a country. But in times of recession, depression even, people want to see politicians provide answers and fix our problems. Whether it be the Great Depression of the early 1930s, or the effects of a war economy on certain countries, economic problems=social problems=political problems.
Another reason for UKIP’s success is simply ‘scapegoating’. I’m treading carefully here, because the political spectrum I encounter amongst friends & colleagues means I don’t want to offend anyone. However, ask anyone what UKIP stand for and you’ll probably be told “get out of Europe” and “regain control of immigration”. These two policies are quite different, but have one important link and one vital similarity. Their link is that the latter cannot truly happen without the former preceding it, and the similarity is that both policies suggest that the ills of today’s country and today’s political system are caused by these two problems. Again, history has shown us the dangers of scapegoating issues or groups of people in times of political turmoil, and yet we seem to be repeating the same mistakes. The Archbishop of York, John Semantu, called for the now emotive phrase ‘immigration’ to be defined by government in order to avoid it being misconstrued, and I agree wholeheartedly. Immigration has been a vital and healthy part of Britain’s history for thousands of years, and shouldn’t be treated as a whole with contempt. Rather, there should be a clearer understanding of what is meant by ‘controlling immigration’ to avoid prejudices arising amongst a potentially manipulated demographic.
But have a look at UKIP’s website and view their other policies- we’re talking repealing the ban on fox hunting and allowing smoking in public places again. Ask them the deep, searching questions, and Nigel Farage will wipe the froth of his beer away from his lips, take a quick puff on his cigarette and avoid the question as much as possible. The party have no real policies, no real ideas on how to tackle the major problems facing our country at this time. They’re simply riding on the crest of the wave of anger, apathy and anarchy.
So does it really matter? John Sergeant said today, with confidence, that Nigel Farage will never be Prime Minister. My gut agrees with him, although similar things would have been said about other leaders in the past who appeared to be a point of ridicule in the years that preceded their rise to power. Even here in the UK, it was less than 100 years ago that politics was only a two party game, with the Labour party nowhere to be seen. However, UKIP are not going to be the Manchester City of ‘governing parties’. They are an Everton at best. But their presence in UK politics, and their increasing popularity tells us that people are searching for alternatives after the most apathetic General Election in recent memory, and that Cameron, Clegg & Miliband need to think carefully about what they offer British people in the next two years if they want Democracy as we know it to survive.