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Friday 10 October 2014


Ukip's voters are not loony or racist, just cross

Ukip has listened to the disgruntled and is reaching the parts other parties miss, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Nigel Farage and Mark Reckless

At last week's Conservative Party conference, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson explained apropos an EU commission plan to ban powerful vacuum cleaners that "I have read that there are some people - probably the type who are thinking of defecting to Ukip - who present themselves at A&E with barely credible injuries sustained through vacuum-cleaner abuse."

Boris being England's most charismatic English politician, this produced shrieks of delighted laughter and a blizzard of faux-shocked headlines. That it proved so popular with the party faithful was not least because sex and the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) were recurring themes in British national politics last week.

It began on Saturday, the last day of Ukip's conference. Towards its close, Nigel Farage - the second most charismatic politician in the country - delightedly produced Mark Reckless, a defecting Conservative MP, to join Douglas Carswell, who'd bailed out the previous month.

Reckless and Carswell come under the umbrella of are what are known as Eurosceptics - a term which is far too broad. Soft Eurosceptics like David Cameron and the majority of the electorate want a reformed EU and oppose federalism: hard Eurosceptics, like Ukip and some Conservatives, want out of the EU, and the sooner the better.

This unexpected blow (for Reckless had denied that he would quit) was rocking the Tories when they learned of the resignation of Brooks Newmark, Minister for Civil Society, who had exposed himself through social media to a male journalist posing as an attractive young female Tory activist. The additional farcical detail that he was wearing paisley pyjamas at the time caused social media to come alive with jokes about members and cock-ups.

There was trepidation during the conference about further defections (what Johnson referred to as "quitters, splitters and kippers"), but in the event Farage could manage only two, a donor and Richard Barnes, an ex-deputy London mayor and indeed ex-Conservative, who caused further merriment when it emerged that he too had an embarrassing social media experience.

The movers and shakers were further worried by the media announcement that Farage had replaced Cameron at the top of the 100 Right-Wing Power List, the pundits' panel having decided that he and his party (six other members appeared on the list) had "single-handedly driven the debate on the right this year" and forced Cameron to offer an in-out referendum on Europe.

On this occasion, the party held its nerve, to some extent because Ed Miliband had given a dismal speech at the Labour Conference and because Farage was threatening Labour defections too, for Ukip is also proving attractive to disillusioned working-class supporters whose towns have been changed out of all recognition by mass immigration.

Cameron made a barnstorming speech that hit many Conservative buttons, and gave the warning that will be the theme of the campaign running up to the May 2015 general election: "Here's a thought: on 7th May you could go to bed with Nigel Farage, and wake up with Ed Miliband. I don't know about you but not one bit of that works for me."

Cameron long ago accepted that in an age of austerity he is too posh to be popular, but unlike Miliband, he is taken seriously. Labour has been ahead in the polls for a long time but the lead is diminishing: it is now being suggested by worried left-wing analysts that Ukip is more of an electoral threat to Labour than the Tories.

Ukip members are variously accused of being racists, fruitcakes and swivel-eyed loonies, but the party describes itself simply as a patriotic party that promotes independence from the EU, UK control over its borders, a small state, self-reliance and personal freedom from state interference. Farage refused to ally himself with France's far right Front National, accusing it of racism and anti-Semitism, and although UKIP wants to limit immigration, it specifically welcomes people "with a positive contribution to make".

Farage has the common touch and is perceived as a good bloke despite having gone to public school and worked as a commodity broker in the City and having been an MEP since 1999. What he has going for him is less public hostility to the EU than that he listens to the concern of those neglected for years by the Westminster elite and the kind of politically-correct public officials who in the name of cultural sensitivity ignored the widespread grooming of white girls by men of Pakistani Muslim origin.

There are some weird people in Ukip ­- though I'd wager no vacuum-cleaner-abusers - but most of its supporters are just ordinary people who became fed up over the years at having their worries and grumbles ignored and being accused of racism if they criticised the multiculturalism that was turning their towns into ghettos. I wouldn't want to see the party in government, but its voters deserve to be treated with respect.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards