Nigel Farage: A hero and a winner?
As Peter Oborne of the Daily Telegraph put it, Nigel Farage was the hero of the recent elections, but David Cameron was the winner. Can Nigel Farage be both in 2015?
UKIP’s success in the local and European elections has, as Nigel Farage predicted, caused an electoral earthquake. For the first time perhaps in over a hundred years, an outsider party has broken through the mainstream political consensus, and much of the credit must surely go to one man, Nigel Farage, whose human personality smashed the studied on-message insincerity of the established political class.
UKIP’s success really has caused an earthquake. And the aftershocks continue. Nick Clegg may yet survive as leader of the Liberal Democrats, but he and his party appear to be seriously damaged.
Ed Miliband is seen as a party-machine apparatchik who would say anything to get into 10 Downing Street. He was happy to serve under Gordon Brown who referred to an ordinary working class lady as a bigot simply because she objected to unlimited immigration, yet Miliband is now publicly flag-waving for immigration controls.
As for David Cameron, he is now forced to try and out-flank Nigel Farage on immigration and Europe.
Judging by much public debate on the recent elections, many believe that the British people have at last woken up and have decided finally to end the pro-immigration, supine liberal consensus that has dominated British politics for the past forty odd years.
UKIP’s achievement is to be welcomed and it is understandable that many on the right of British politics are euphoric about UKIP’s success.
But a more rational look at the state of play of Britain’s party political system indicates a need for caution. Realistically, after the euphoria of the recent election triumphs, what are UKIP’s chances of influencing events after the general election in 2015?
Obviously, everything depends on how well UKIP perform in 2015. But short of winning enough seats to enter coalition with the Tories (a remote possibility if UKIP increases its recent surge in support and wins marginal seats), the best UKIP can hope for is a Conservative win and the promised referendum on the EU.
Such a thought is anathema to many in the party fold, but it is only that promised referendum on Europe that can even begin to deliver what UKIP most wants – a withdrawal from the EU and control over the country’s borders and immigration. It is on the promised EU referendum that UKIP’s future depends.
And that’s where things get a bit sticky. A recent YouGov poll on voting intentions in the forthcoming referendum puts a majority, 42 percent, in favour of staying in Europe against 36 percent who want to leave. A BBC poll puts 35 percent in favour of remaining in the EU against 32 percent wanting to leave, with 27 percent undecided.
Those voting figures are dangerous for UKIP. Obviously, between now and the promised referendum there is scope for persuasion, and if anyone can persuade it is Nigel Farage.
But there is no denying the fact that there are indeed dangers here for UKIP.
Unlike the Conservative and Labour Parties, UKIP’s long term future could uniquely depend on the outcome of the EU referendum. If the British people vote in favour of membership of the EU – particularly if David Cameron secures some concessions on welfare entitlements and immigration control – then UKIP’s justification as a political force could be undermined.
If, on the other hand, the British people vote to exit the EU, then UKIP could well become a major player in British politics, repositioning the centre ground on immigration and welfare entitlements.
That promised referendum on Europe is UKIP’s strength, but it is also its weakness.
Many UKIP members and supporters are much more optimistic. They believe they can win seats at the next general election and grow as a new political force in British politics, taking seats from both the Conservative and Labour parties.
That optimism will be tested in the forthcoming Newark by-election. If UKIP were to win, then perhaps the recent election euphoria really will be justified.
For the moment, however, the reality is that the Conservative Party is the only mainstream party guaranteeing that crucial referendum on Europe. That fact will almost certainly concentrate the minds of many who want to get out of the EU.
It’s a paradox for Farage and UKIP and their supporters. They created the political dynamism that has changed British politics. If it weren’t for UKIP, there would be no promised referendum.
Yet it is obviously possible – no matter how unpalatable this may be to UKIP supporters – that a vote for UKIP in the general election may let Miliband into Downing Street by the back door, thereby denying them their referendum.
There is a strategic choice here for UKIP come election time in 2015.
Go for broke. No pacts. No deals. Try to secure as many seats as possible and then decide. Perhaps the British people will give Nigel Farage what his supporters so desperately want, but there’s no doubt it’s a choice that risks putting Miliband into Downing Street.
Or do a pact with the Conservatives in certain constituencies. At least such a pact would strengthen the Conservatives and the likelihood of that crucial EU referendum.
David Cameron was forced into promising a referendum on Europe, yet it has turned out to be his trump card for 2015. With Miliband and the Liberal Democrats refusing the people a say, that referendum could win for David Cameron and the Conservatives.
As Peter Oborne of the Daily Telegraph put it, Nigel Farage was the hero of the recent elections, but David Cameron was the winner.
Can Nigel Farage be the hero and the winner in 2015?
Vincent Cooper is a regular contributor to The Commentator
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