Having watched The Andrew Marr Show this morning, a pervading liet-motif from the three mainstream political parties all said, with varying degrees of confidence, that they are listening to what the local election results are telling them about people’s attitudes to the political elite and to the continued rise of UKIP. In essence, they saying ‘we’ve got it!’. The reality is very different. The mainstream political parties say, as they always do when faced with anything that challenges their hegemony, we’re listening and will take your concerns into account…no you haven’t! The local government elections on Thursday and the probable outcome of the European election demonstrates clearly that UKIP is taking votes from all the political parties. Labour may have gained the most council seats—no surprise for the opposition mid-term—but their results do not presage well for the General Election next year.
No opposition has won a General Election when they did not have a majority in local government and Labour do not. Their leader is hardly elector-friendly, his policies on, for instance, the cost of living crisis, are unravelling and although some polls give the party a lead over the Conservatives, at this stage of the electoral cycle it should be doing considerably better. The Lib-Dems suffered most in the elections and although it is unlikely that Nick Clegg will be removed as leader, his poll ratings are appallingly low and his credibility as party leader is shot—he may have acted in the public interest in joining the coalition but this will, I suspect, have a debilitating effect in the elections next year. The Conservatives also lost council seats but not enough to give Labour the majority in local government that it needs but the fissures in the party—evident since the 1980s—over Europe are damaging—the electorate generally punishes divided parties. So where does that leave UKIP? Well in a first-past-the post system, nowhere at all. More councillors but no council and, though it looks like it will focus on 20 seats in 2015, it’s improbable that it will make the breakthrough into parliamentary politics. This may explain the double-talk from the three main parties—yes we’re listening and will take your concerns into account…but no we’re not going to change our political directions.
Is it any surprise that there is a disconnect between the public and politicians? Miliband is still saying Labour can—please note not will—win the General Election in 2015; Clegg, I won’t quit despite defeats; and Cameron, well actually saying very little leaving all the flak to his ministers and supporters. Yesterday’s Times had an article by Matthew Parris in which he says that people don’t really care about the EU as an electoral issue and that in 2015 people will vote over largely domestic issues. He may be right—past experience suggests that it is domestic issues not foreign or European affairs that determine how people vote—but in today’s circumstances, he just might be wrong. UKIP’s popularity lies in being ‘none of the above’ and although its focus has long been on immigration and membership of the EU, these are now real issues for many people beyond the Westminster ‘bubble’. There may be some UKIP supporters who want to stop all immigration, but most don’t. What they want is for Britain to have greater control over who can come to this country and, because we have no control over labour movement from the EU, that tends to be the focus of their thinking. If we leave the EU we can again control immigration—whether this is true or not matters less than how the issue is perceived.