UKIP's rise exposes language barriers

It is clear that Westminster is struggling to understand what the country is saying

There is a clear barrier between Westminster and the rest of the country
Simon Miller
On 3 May 2013 15:43

The British and Irish Lions were picked this week. Some players, who should have made the squad, missed out; others are going in what can only be termed as a WTF moment.

Similar WTFs are being shouted in Westminster today as policy wonks absorb the purple movement that has taken votes, not just from the Tories but from Labour and Lib Dems as well. The narratives are streaming out from all sides who are frantically trying not to panic as the realisation that there are a lot of angry people out there filters through the mists of that political bubble in Westminster.

Labour will claim that this is a blow for the Conservatives and frantically try and draw attention away from the fact that, at a time of flat-lining economy and a sense of unease with the government, it still can’t get a working majority. If that is translated nationally, it’ll be a nervous general election.

In addition, it will hope that, ably abetted by the BBC, this precedes a lurch to the right from the Conservative party – despite the fact that this appears to be what the electorate wants too.

The Conservatives will try and hold their nerve and send out soothing noises to Ukip voters: yes you have sent out a message, and that that message will be heeded.

The Lib Dems, meanwhile, will be triangulating galore as they work out whether to shift even more leftwards to join the Labour party chasing the 35 percent core vote from that end of the spectrum.

It is clear, then, that they haven’t got the message. None of them: Conservative. Labour, Lid Dem alike.  Of course there are exceptions but in general these parties cannot see outside their cozy little club on the banks of Old Father Thames; they will only look up when their seats are at stake.

Nine months ago I wrote part of the problem with the country at the moment is that the politics is broken. The culture that infests Westminster and Whitehall ignores the concerns of the people in the country itself. It is easy for people to get sucked up into the bubble that is SW2. Go into the Red Lion or Westminster Arms and you will see politicians, civil servants and journalists talking and gossiping, and policy wonks arguing about the minutiae of a situation in a detail that the rest of the country really don’t care about.

I also wrote nine months ago that the executive and its shadow had a broadly similar educational background. If you extend that to the whole of the House of Commons, the disparity between Westminster the country becomes even more pronounced.

In the adult population as a whole, 20 percent have been to university compared with a staggering 90 percent of MPs, with over a quarter having been to Oxford or Cambridge. When it comes to school, only 10 percent of the population went to fee-paying school compared with more than one-third of parliament including a near-cabinet’s worth of 20 Old Etonians.

It is not the education per se that is the problem; it is the culture inherent within. Similar people, similar backgrounds, all set within the bubble. All set within the same club: a club that 65m people cannot be members of. And they wonder why Ukip is getting traction.

Many a psephologist will be crawling over the data to find out why so many people voted for Ukip but I suspect the party may be where the Lib Dems have been when it comes to local level: Local candidates, talking to local people, talking their language.

The most vigorous rebranding in the world doesn’t matter a jot if you cannot speak the language of your audience. With Ukip, many people are hearing language that they can understand, their fears recognised. Much of what is said in Westminster may make sense to the politicians, the wonks and journalists, but out there it may as well be another language, another world even.

Indeed, in the two years in which I have contributed to the Commentator, it appears that, if anything, the disconnection between SW2 and the rest of the country has grown wider. The electorate is right, it is a different world, but the big question today has to be whether Farage can continue this upwards climb of the purple revolution. Or are the odds stacked against him?

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