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Farage Has Upstaged Miliband, But Helps Cameron To Look Serious

Last Updated: Friday, May 23rd, 2014

UKIP’s electoral success puts pressure on all the conventional parties, but most of all on Labour.  Ed Miliband has been comprehensively upstaged by Nigel Farage.

Labour enjoyed a prolonged lead in the polls mainly because early in this Parliament, a large number of Liberal Democrats switched their support to it. They had not voted Lib Dem in order to put the Tories back in to power, and they were incensed by the betrayal of the pledge on tuition fees.

Even this week, these Lib Dem defectors have helped Labour to gain some councils, such as Hammersmith and Fulham. But overall, Labour’s performance is anemic. It has failed to establish the momentum which would be needed to carry it to victory at the general election in 2015.

And Miliband himself looks less prime ministerial than ever. No wonder The Times reports that the “knives are out” for him. This week’s wretched pictures of him looking very odd while eating a bacon sandwich have made many people feel sorry for him: a dreadful emotion for the Leader of the Opposition to arouse.

If Miliband were capable of saying striking things about what is wrong with the Conservatives, people might forgive him his odd appearance. They might even like it that someone so unsmooth was scoring points off so self-possessed a figure as David Cameron. The Labour leader could by now be speaking with wit and authority for that unglamorous but electorally vital district known as middle England.  Instead he just looks weird and irrelevant, and even within his own party, hardly anyone feels genuinely enthusiastic about him as a leader.

Cameron, by contrast, does look prime ministerial. Middle England does not warm to him as a person, but realises that he and his colleagues have serious things to say. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, this week confronted the Police Federation with a ferocious and unanswerable list of the reforms to which it must agree. Similar work is being done by Iain Duncan Smith on welfare and Michael Gove in the nation’s schools.

Anyone who follows politics at all closely is already a bit fed up with the Tories’ constant references to “our long-term economic plan”, or Oltep. But here, people see, is a professional outfit. Although Oltep is dull, it indicates a discipline and a seriousness of purpose which are missing from Labour’s pronouncements. The economy is recovering, and huge numbers of jobs are being created. It is true, as Miliband points out, that many people have yet to feel the benefits of this: each time they do their weekly shop at the supermarket, they experience a cost-of-living crisis.

Unfortunately for Labour, when Miliband was asked a few days ago about the cost of his own weekly shop, he was unable to give a convincing reply. He got credit neither for honesty (“I haven’t the faintest idea, I’m far too busy to do the shopping”) or for knowing what it is like to be under financial pressure: his estimate of £70-£80 was, the presenter pointed out, £30 below what an average family of four spends in a week, after which Miliband felt obliged to admit that he probably spends more than the average family, for he is of course comfortably off compared to most people.

So Miliband has failed to connect with the mood of anger that bubbles in a large part of the electorate. He cannot express the rage which the man in the pub feels with our mealy-mouthed, Oxbridge-educated political class, because he too is so clearly a member of that class.

Farage is the demagogue who has successfully expressed what the man in the pub feels. It is to him that disappointed voters have turned. He offered, on their behalf, to embarrass the conventional politicians, and they have warmly accepted this offer.

Clegg’s Lib Dems can only sigh for the days when they were the preferred party of protest.  Nor do they appear to have got much thanks for becoming a party of government. The Conservatives can now hope that they will be able to fight the 2015 general election as the only serious party of government on offer.

By Andrew Gimson



Mark Wallace: UKIP and the media – a passionate, stormy affair which could come to a sticky end  “UKIP’s relationship with the media is a strange thing. In large part, their poll ratings and image are a media creation, delivered to our breakfast tables and TV screens by journalists seeking something interesting and different. At the same time, UKIPers themselves denounce the ‘mainstream media’ (definition: anyone who criticises them) as the running dogs of ‘the LibLabCon political elite’, and revel in each negative report as an affirmation of their success in irking both groups.”

Sunder Katwala: The Ukippers you can talk to – and those that you can’t  “A useful response to a UKIP victory – or narrow second – for any of the major parties would be to work out which UKIP voters could be re-engaged and which can’t, and how to go about talking to them.

UKIP will probably gain up to 4.5 million of the15 million European votes likely to be counted this week. They can be split into three groups each of broadly similar size: ‘tactical UKIP’, ‘engageable UKIP’ and ‘rejectionist UKIP’.‘Tactical Ukip’ are the large group of fairweather friends of Nigel Farage who swell his ranks for European Elections only. Many already plan to vote for somebody else, usually the Conservatives, in 2015.”

Paul Goodman: Is it Conservative to believe that “the Islamic state is the greatest contribution to humanity”?  “This tale raises three main issues.  First, Sadruddin’s views, and whether he should be a Tory candidate.  Second, how the party should handle former members of Respect.  And, third, the campaigning relationship between the Party and religion.  Sadruddin is the easiest of the three to determine.  If believing that the Islamic state is the greatest contribution to humanity is conservatism, then Sahruddin is a Conservative: if it isn’t, then he isn’t, either.  And if he isn’t, he shouldn’t be standing as a Tory council candidate in Newham.”

Andrew Gimson: Free schools are under attack because they are working  “Within the total of 4,098 academies, attention tends to be focused on the 174 free schools which have so far been set up: new schools authorised under the Academies Act 2010 and enjoying the same freedom to run their own affairs. But even 174 is quite a large number to grasp, so in practice it has proved easier to concentrate on just three free schools, in Crawley, Derby and Bradford, where there have been problems. Even those of us who are not statisticians can see it would be dangerous to try to determine from a sample of only three schools what is happening to the whole programme. Yet the bad publicity attaching to those three has helped to foment the impression that the whole free schools programme could be in trouble. The truth is the opposite.”

Iain Dale: Can we now put signs up all over Britain, saying: ‘LibDems: losing here’?  “Over the last few weeks, the electoral geek in me has certainly manifested itself. I’ve done a series of blogposts predicting the outcome of the European elections in each region. Yes, what a sad bastard I have become. I reckon the best outcome the Tories can hope for is 20 seats, although a very senior Cabinet Minister thinks that I am being unduly optimistic. Apparently, he and his colleagues think the total will be more like 15 or 16. If he’s right, that will means UKIP scores far more than the 26 I have predicted. But, let’s face it, most people reading this site are far more interested in the number of seats the LibDems will get. Or rather won’t. If they get a big fat zero, as many pundits predict maybe we can erect a series of posters all around the country saying ‘LIBDEMS – LOSING HERE’.”

By Andrew Gimson

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