Boris Johnson has recently written of the ‘utterly nuts’ Conservative MPs who are defecting to UKIP. In his piece for The Telegraph, Johnson acknowledges the similarities between his party and UKIP stating that, “we think that the system of unrestricted mobility between 28 countries needs to be re-thought, and there needs to be a reform that gives sovereign governments the ability once again to control who is coming into their country”. I have always found this strange – that Conservatives, who work so vigorously to defend free-market economics, subscribe to a common European market but deny the right afforded to goods – free movement – for real human beings. Such is the twisted philosophy that sees profits as more important than people.
Yet this rise of UKIP is worrying because, whereas the Tories have been rather socially liberal under David Cameron, UKIP is altogether more virulent. This is a party which opposes gay marriage, which suggests a flat rate of tax despite its consequences for inequality, which promises to scrap the Human Rights Act. Not to mention UKIP’s ridiculing of green energy, instead proposing the increased use of fossil fuels. Nigel Farage even idolises China in this department, as if a country drowning in man-made, carcinogenic smog is something to aspire to.
It seems that the centrist moderation of David Cameron is cleaving his party atwain – but it has long been known that Cameron is too moderate for many of his party members. There’s always some right-winger arguing that progress is not being delayed quite rigorously enough, that not enough life rafts are being torn from the poor. To these people Nigel Farage has provided some hope, becoming somewhat of a messianic figure for those with traditional conservative views – and perhaps UKIP has always been an inevitable consequence of the dominance of centrist politics. Not only has the party provided an option for those who feel the Conservative Party has become too weak in realising its right-wing ambitions, it has also engaged many disenfranchised voters who do not identify with the Tories’ snooty aloofness, their air of Etonian privilege. In short, UKIP has engaged that most paradoxical of groups, the working-class traditionalists.
Yet there are interesting questions to be raised here. Firstly, if centrist politics have caused this rebirth of the right, why has this not occurred for the left? Whilst UKIP gained 11 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) in the last European election, the Green Party gained just 1, and their share of the vote actually fell from that of 2009. Of course one can only speculate as to the reasons this disparity was seen, but the most logical explanation seems to be that UKIP have received a disproportionate amount of media attention of late, even if much of it has been negative. Conversely, as Green MP Caroline Lucas has stated, it is difficult for the Greens to garner media support because they are unapologetically anti-big business (or at least the horrific strain of big business which has flourished under the aegis of the Conservative Party).
Perhaps more immediately important is the effect that growing UKIP support will have on the upcoming general election. Splitting the right-wing vote may lead to the Conservatives failing to achieve a majority of seats in the House of Commons and, if UKIP’s share of the vote is also significant, a coalition of the two warring parties may be necessary. This would appear almost as a physical manifestation of the persistent division in David Cameron’s party, and he would be forced to work with those who have fled from his party in search of grimmer pastures.
Yet we must remember that the lack of proportional representation in the UK makes the threat of a Conservative-UKIP coalition rather less imposing. Currently UKIP have no seats in the House of Commons, and even a considerable increase in their percentage of the vote will probably not change this, because the diffuse nature of UKIP’s voter base is also its weakness in a first-past-the-post system. So there may be no need to cancel your holidays to Europe just yet.
Written by Thomas Gun