It’s been an interesting weekend for politics. I’ll save the rant about Gove for another time, I think, but it was that which caught and held my attention for a lot of it. This was, as I somewhat humourlessly alluded to in a tweet on Sunday, mostly because I didn’t really want to acknowledge what was going on with the elections. I haven’t really formed a coherent set of thoughts about it yet, but as an exercise I tried to get what I did think down onto (metaphorical) paper.
Of course, really, we all saw it coming. UKIP seemed destined to do phenomenally well almost right out of the gate. It has been commented before by many that with this election being so much about attitudes to immigration and membership to the EU, continuing frustrations by many on both fronts made for ideal conditions for Farage’s party.
All this, despite the fact that no one has yet been able to explain to me any of UKIP’s policies that don’t relate to our borders or our involvement in the European Union. There is speculation from some that this doesn’t really matter as a point – the local and European elections don’t really ‘count’ because they don’t decide our Prime Minister. As such, this is just a way for the voting population to vent their frustration with the political system without a huge amount of fall out.
I can’t work out what scares me more – that this statement might be true or that it might be false. If true, it shows a disastrously weak grasp of what local representatives and MEPs actually do (and indeed exactly what our relationship with Europe does for us). If false, then it means we might actually be dangerously close to having UKIP MPs come 2015.
But so what? If its the will of the people, then so be it? Surely this is the point of democracy, right? The ‘big three’ (I’m charitably, if laughably, include the Liberal Democrats in this…) aren’t cutting it for the electorate, and they want to choose UKIP as their representative, then isn’t that their right to do so?
Well of course it is. My concern isn’t that the political system is failing, my concern is that so many people see a party like UKIP as the only sensible option.
And on the face of it, it isn’t hard to see why. Farage, for all his many flaws, is an exceptional public speaker – there’s no use in us lefties trying to deny it because we hate the guy, it doesn’t change the fact that its true. Also, he has the enviable position of being ‘the other voice’. One of the reasons the Liberal Democrats curried so much favour in the last General Election is because they had the liberty of being able to speak out against the status quo. Its one of the reasons Cameron wanted to align himself with Clegg – it scooped up the greatest majority of people. Labour had – in the eyes of a great many – screwed up massively. Anyone who could slate that and even have an ounce of credibility was laughing. The Conservative-LibDem coalition could do so from both sides of the political spectrum.
Farage & Co get to do the same thing again – only this time they can berate all three of the big parties; Labour for screwing up in the first place, and the Conservatives for not fixing it (the Lib Dems needed no help digging their own grave). If you accept that the big three are useless as political entities – as many have – then you really are limited in terms of choice.
(There is the related argument that the Green Party also posed a viable alternative to ‘traditional voting’, but that they were not given the luxury of such a great platform for public exposure as UKIP. I won’t explore that in much depth here, but it is worth bearing in mind. Was the media unfairly biased towards UKIP intentionally, or did UKIP simply engage in behaviour that was more ‘interesting’?)
It remains to be seen whether this general election will be as personality driven as the last, but assuming it is that’s even more good news for UKIP. Assuming all three main parties keep their leaders who have we got to choose from? Miliband has practically zero charisma, Cameron’s rhetoric has long since worn thin, and Clegg – please, give me a break.
‘But politics shouldn’t be decided on the party leader – it should be on policy and the manifestos!’ – I completely agree with you, hypothetical but well reasoned reader. And yet that isn’t the situation in which we appear to find ourselves. People, really, only care about one or two issues when it comes to ticking the box on election day. We don’t have the time or capacity to think about more than that so we pick 3 or 4 markers and see who aligns with us on that (in this case, it was largely Europe and immigration – though of course this was a ‘European Election’, so this was to be expected).
What is interesting is that, just looking at the turnout for General Elections, people do seem to be gradually more engaged. Since and all time low in 2001, turnout across England and Wales is slowly on the increase. Given that media coverage and public interest at the moment seem to be so heavily fixed on the goings on at and beyond our borders, we could have a very different political landscape post-2015.
That could just be the nature of these recent elections though. Perhaps we will settle back down in the run up to the General Elections and the public mood will switch to thinking a little more about what happens to domestic policy. Its hard to say.
Or maybe 2005 and 2010 were anomalies. While official figures for the European elections probably exist by the time you read this, I haven’t seen them yet and so I can’t comment on these elections. But historically local and other elections have fluctuated massively, but it will be interesting to see what the turnout was. I’m betting it won’t be high though. Does this reflect the inherent volatility of local turnouts, or a wider trend?
Who knows. Whatever happens, it seems that the days of traditional party politics really did die with the 2010 elections.