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Gale's View - Mid-Term Elections

June 4th 2014

Mid-term elections are, historically, an opportunity for the electorate “give the government a kicking”.  Politicians are never, and administrations very seldom, popular.  In the past it has been the Liberal Party or the Liberal Democrats who have been the beneficiary of being perceived as what one elder Statesman described as “a home for disgruntled votes”.  With the Liberal Democrats in government, however, and with the official Opposition in disarray, it has been the “United Kingdom Independence Party” that has mopped up these votes and, rather like David Owen`s Social Democratic Party (if you remember them) has surprised itself, and caused consternation in the Westminster Village and amongst the Chattering Classes, by seeming to sweep all before it.
Those of us in the House of Commons are expected to take a message from this and I do. It may not, though, be precisely the intended signal that has got through and I shall no doubt immediately be accused of arrogance and of “missing the point”.
I understand that the public have gone out and voted in significant numbers for a party that includes a motley ragbag of malcontented former and failed Conservative Party candidates and fellow travellers that embraces some people who have, by their own twitterings and Facebook entries, been revealed as racist, homophobic and otherwise singularly unpleasant.  That these people have, as each revelation has emerged (and more will follow) been expelled from the party led by Mr. Farage is scarcely relevant. That they should have been there in the first place is bad enough and suggests that, in a desperate attempt to recruit “the right” to its cause UKIP has attracted those whose names should never have been allowed anywhere near a ballot paper. That is dangerous and it is seriously worrying.
Minority parties are not expected to have sophisticated and costed plans for government because there is no prospect of them ever being required to deliver on anything remotely representing a promise or an economic policy.  It is enough for them simply to take a broad-brush approach to “immigration” or “Europe” or “benefits” and to strike a chord with the basest of gut instincts amongst those who feel hard done by or are simply just fed up with the government of the day.

Particularly, in this case, a Government that is perceived to have failed to deliver Conservative policies.  No matter that David Cameron and George Osborne have picked up a basket-case economy, have steered us away from the precipice and back on the road to recovery.  No matter that Theresa May has, after years of Labour`s profligate approach to immigration (which I first warned of in August of 1997), made the first serious and successful effort since Michael Howard to reduce net immigration under.  No matter that Iain Duncan Smith and his team have got to grips with a benefit system that was spiralling out of control while seeking to provide fair and affordable pensions for a population that is ageing.  Forget the health service reforms that might just save the NHS from bankruptcy and education reforms designed to inject some serious standards and quality and meaningful qualifications back into a discredited system.   It is not what governments have done (save for same-sex marriage about which my personal view is a matter of record) that counts. It is, rather, the manifesto promises that have not been delivered that is the focus of, I think, some rather ill-informed attention.

The fundamental myth is that we have “a Conservative government”. We do not. My own political party lost the last General Election.  As a result we labour, in the national interest, under a coalition.  While much that is good has been achieved with to be fair, the support of the Liberal Democrats there are items on our agenda for which the parliamentary arithmetic – and votes are simply about numbers – do not stack up.
We went, for example, a long way down the road towards reducing the number of parliamentary seats and, therefore, the cost of parliament, to a number that properly reflected the geography of modern-day Britain.  In a fit of pique, and having lost the referendum on proportional representation that they were promised and that we delivered on, our colleagues in Government declined to support the legislation. No deal. 
We made a manifesto commitment to repeal, in government, the Human Rights Act and to replace it with a British Bill of Rights that more properly reflects our national requirements. Again, the junior parliamentary colleagues in the Coalition made it plain that on this issue they would side with the Labour party and defeat the proposed legislation. No deal.

Finally, there is the thorny issue of the referendum.  We did not, as UKIP supporters have disingenuously claimed “promise a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon”. We did undertake to submit the Treaty to a referendum provided that it had not been ratified by Gordon Brown`s government prior to the last General Election.  Unfortunately, it was and that item was therefore not on the agenda at all and was certainly not contained within the last Conservative manifesto.

What we have promised is, given a Conservative majority government, an in/out referendum on our continued membership of the European Union by 2017.  “Why not before?” Parliamentary arithmetic again. A referendum requires a piece of enabling legislation.  Our young colleague James Wharton, with the support of the entire Conservative parliamentary party from the man in Number 10 down, skilfully piloted the necessary bill through the House of Commons. It was then killed off by an alliance of Liberal Democrat and Labour peers in the House of Lords.  No deal.

So back to the man with the ever-full beer glass and the perpetually burning lighted cigarette.   My own opinion, which I am lawfully entitled to hold, is that a Mr. Farage, who cannot be an MP and an MEP simultaneously, does not wish to be elected to the Westminster parliament at all.  

First, voters in East Kent have become used to MPs that respond to their problems and concerns. By contrast, my impression is that one of the ten European Members of Parliament representing – I use the word loosely –  The South East has, in terms of constituency casework, never knowingly been overworked and might just find the three hundred or so constituency enquiries that we receive daily a trifle tiresome. 
Next, there is the matter of “League”.  “Mr. Farridge” is used to being a big fish in a small birdbath.  He is unlikely to enjoy the “Caroline Lucas” effect. Sitting on the Opposition benches, where she might possibly be joined by a Mr. Farage, MP. Ms. Lucas attracted novelty attention as the Leader of a new party for a few of months before sinking back into the mire of anonymity that is a backbencher`s lot.  “Nige”, the “ordinary bloke”, used to being the star of the saloon bar, might not care for that either.

And then there is the combined salary, euro-expenses paid in full “to do with as I see fit”,  and the pension fund (which would be transferred to the UK but for how long?) that add up to a comfortable lifestyle at your expense.

No, my hunch is that Mr. Farage will seek to do as much damage as possible by splitting a Conservative vote while keeping in his back pocket the security of a European Parliamentary seat.  If I am wrong, let him have the guts to renounce the European Parliament, take his chances like the rest of us, and stand for Westminster.  If I am right then North Thanet would be an ideal seat for Le Farage to fight: he will not win but he would possibly have the satisfaction of seeing a Eurosceptic Tory replaced by a europhile Socialist – which is, of course, precisely the result that those who support his particular brand of populism claim that they least want!

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