A little less conversation, a little more action.
With the pumped-up remix of the classic song ringing in their ears, UKIP delegates to the party’s 2014 conference in Doncaster stood and cheered and welcomed their latest high profile parliamentary defector: now ex-Conservative MP Mark Reckless.
Say what you want about UKIP’s policies, internal contradictions and some of their wackier personalities, but this does not look like a party of economically left-behind losers or over-the-hill retirees caught up in nostalgia for times past.
As Mark Reckless himself noted, to thunderous applause: “The only nostalgia I see is that of the European bureaucrats as they cling to their fading 1950s vision.”
And in a political landscape where talk is cheap and real progress is rare, all of the action and momentum right now is with UKIP.
First it was Douglas Carswell.
Then came Mark Reckless MP.
At the close of their party conference at Doncaster Racecourse, the United Kingdom Independence Party gave the Conservative Party – and the entire British political establishment – a second black eye. And this one was even more deserved than the first.
After UKIP’s victory in the European elections and Douglas Carswell’s shock defection to the party, the Labour and Conservative party leaderships both had the opportunity to recalibrate their patronising, dismissive attitude toward UKIP and its growing ranks of supporters.
There was a golden opportunity for – if not quite rapprochement – at least a genuine attempt by either or both parties to understand the sentiments and motivations that drive people who believe UKIP deserve a fair shake, and who don’t necessarily view Nigel Farage as the devil incarnate.
This blog called loudly for just such a re-evaluation in the aftermath of the European election results, and deplored the constant slanders, stereotypes and insults directed by the establishment (politicians and journalists alike) toward ordinary British people who had the temerity to consider fishing outside the stale, homogenised three-party political pool.
But this call was not heeded – after a week or so of hand-wringing introspection, the status quo prevailed and both attitudes toward UKIP and strategies (such as they were) for preventing its advance returned to normal.
Foolish quotes and actions by rogue UKIP candidates and councillors were presented as being representative of party orthodoxy.
The establishment continued to mock UKIP at every turn, and the media focused primarily on how much damage growing UKIP support would do to the existing (or “legacy”) parties rather than seeking to genuinely understand and report on the reasons for the shift in public sentiment.
And at no point did David Cameron or Ed Miliband and their respective parties walk back their haughty dismissal of UKIP as a party of closet racists, fruitcakes and loons.
Well, now the establishment must reap what it so disdainfully sowed in the hearts of the electorate. David Cameron and the Conservative Party must now fight not one by-election, but two.
Now, there may well be not just one potential UKIP Member of Parliament in Westminster, but two – and all before the starting pistol for the 2015 general election campaign has even been fired.
The aptly-named Mark Reckless faces a tougher challenge to keep his Rochester and Stroud seat than his co-defector Douglas Carswell, standing in the much more UKIP-friendly Clacton. But there is every chance that the voters in his constituency will reward his taking a principled stance for his eurosceptic beliefs.
At some point the main party leaders will have to address their alarming lack of credibility with the voters. People simply do not believe David Cameron’s promise that the Conservatives will deliver a fair in/out referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.
Mark Reckless alluded to this credibility gap in his defection speech at the UKIP conference, saying: “I can’t keep that promise [to ensure a fair referendum] as a Conservative, I can keep it as UKIP”.
Even worse than the Conservative position, Ed Miliband goes around openly telling voters that he doesn’t trust them to come to a sound decision on the subject at all, and that they should leave important questions about their destiny to people like him.
These have been the unattractive messages emanating from Britain’s two main political parties since the last election in 2010 – vague promises of an unlikely referendum, or outright refusal to consult the people at all. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives seem to realise that the problem is not the British public’s failure to comprehend the wise pre-screened options placed before them, but rather with the stale, unresponsive policies themselves.
In the final, fraught days of the Scottish independence referendum, some of our leaders finally began to rediscover their sense of Britishness and started, haltingly, to speak about our many great national attributes and strengths. This was an important development, and long overdue.
But whenever the Europe question is raised, senior British politicians from all of the main parties instantly forget the many reasons to be confident in Britain as a sovereign nation, and revert to their well-rehearsed narrative of a small, inconsequential Britain buffeted by forces outside her control and unable to act as a strong, independent player on the world stage.
If the establishment really wants to halt the advance of UKIP and prevent any further defections of MPs from either party, they need to learn to start talking about Britain in the same positive way with regard to Europe as they belatedly learned to do in the Scottish independence referendum debate.
And until that happens, Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party will continue to rise by reminding voters – to quote Mark Reckless – that Britain can be so much “more than a star on someone else’s flag”.
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