Ukip is polling 28 percent for next month’s European elections—only two points behind Labour—according to the latest YouGov survey. This five point rise is a big boost for Nigel Farage’s party. All the main parties have slipped back, with the Tories at 22 percent and the Lib Dems at 9 percent.
This is not remotely surprising. The poll was probably taken before the latest revelations about Tory culture secretary Maria Miller’s efforts to block investigation of her parliamentary expenses. Her arrogant behaviour underlines what is the biggest factor working in Ukip’s favour.
This isn’t hostility to the European Union (EU).
Other polling evidence points to what Sunder Katwala calls “the Nigel Farage paradox: the more that Ukip’s media profile, poll rating and party membership has grown over the last two years, the more that support for the party’s core mission—that Britain should leave the European Union—seems to have shrunk.”
No, Farage’s strongest card is the sheer arrogance and social isolation of the political elite, their alienation from the lives of the rest of us. This struck me very strongly during a discussion on Radio 4’s Today programme after the first debate between Farage and the wretched Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
Batting for the Lib Dems, Paddy Ashdown was contemptuous about Farage’s attack on the EU’s role in precipitating the Ukraine crisis. He dismissed it as a sign of “inexperience”. Now Ashdown has form on this kind of issue—he was the West’s proconsul in Bosnia and Herzegovina after Nato’s bombing campaigns during the 1990s.
But he was expressing the consensus establishment view not just in Britain, but throughout the EU, that Western neoliberal imperialism isn’t really imperialism at all. Instead it is a benign force of nature that can be trusted to transform people’s lives for the better. To oppose it is irrational—hence all the embarrassing portrayals of Vladimir Putin as a madman.
This outlook encouraged British governments to participate in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, despite overwhelming popular opposition, with disastrous consequences now evident to all. This kind of stance leaves the mainstream parties sitting ducks in the face of the Ukip leader’s populist attacks.
The clowns in Westminster make it easy for Farage to pose as a voice of the outsiders. Never mind that his City background and repeated efforts to become a Tory MP hardly suggest he’s a genuine outsider.
The way in which David Cameron led most MPs in rallying round Miller is evidence of the same gulf separating them from the rest of us. Yet another poll in the Mail on Sunday shows 78 percent—including 82 percent of Tory voters—want to see her sacked.
The Scottish referendum campaign is another instance of the same pattern. The three main parties persuaded themselves that it was a cunning wheeze to gang up on the Scottish National Party (SNP). They ruled out the possibility of a currency union between an independent Scotland and the rump British state.
As a child of three could have predicted, this gave the Yes campaign a perfect opportunity to denounce an establishment conspiracy to scare the Scottish people into voting against independence. No wonder the gap has narrowed to 53 percent Yes and 47 percent No—excluding don’t knows—according a poll in the Sunday Times.
Of course, the No campaign is dealing with Alex Salmond, by general consent the ablest politician in Britain. His machine is so effective that the No leader, Alistair Darling, has been reduced to whining about the SNP “monstering” its opponents. But the problem goes deeper than this.
The normal way that the establishment gets round difficulties is by simply ignoring public opinion. But it is now trapped in a series of votes—the European elections, the Scottish referendum, and possibly a referendum on EU membership.
So popular alienation could tear a chunk out of the British state and blow away one of the main pillars of its global strategy for nearly 60 years.
The political elite’s class arrogance leaves it stumbling towards disaster.