Magazine article The Spectator

The Tories Need Their Own Nigel Farage

Magazine article The Spectator

The Tories Need Their Own Nigel Farage

Article excerpt

There are two talking points in Westminster this week. One is about who is up and who is down following the local council elections. This finds the Cameroons privately pleased that the Tory party has largely kept its head despite the Ukip surge, the Labour side worried about whether they are doing well enough for mid-term and the Liberal Democrats relieved that their vote is holding up in their parliamentary seats if nowhere else.

The other conversation is more profound.

It is about why close to one in four of those who bothered to do their democratic duty last week voted Ukip. The rise of any new party is a statement of dissatisfaction with the existing establishment. But what is striking about Ukip is the diversity of its appeal. The fact that it secured more second placess than any other party last Thursday shows that it is far more than just a repository for Tebbitites disillusioned with the Tory modernising project.

It is succeeding in drawing support from exTory and Labour voters. It reflects disillusionment not just with one party but with all parties.

Part of what lies behind Ukip's rise is the extent to which the consensus in Westminster doesn't match the consensus in the country.

International development is, perhaps, the most potent example. All three main parties are committed to Britain increasing its aid budget to 0.7 per cent of gross national income. But the public view is quite the opposite. One minister complains that most of his constituents would think it absurd to cut the army's budget while increasing aid. But, he claims, if he said that in Westminster, he'd be regarded as a 'maverick'. This minister argues that what the political class fails to understand is that many of Ukip's policies 'aren't fringe positions. They're only fringe positions in the Westminster Village.'

Nigel Farage plays up to this idea, presenting himself as the tribune of common sense.

He is aided in this task by the reluctance of other political leaders to paint in primary colours. The Farage agenda might, in places, be contradictory. But it is clear he wants to quit the EU and the ECHR, lower taxes, scrap green subsidies, bring back grammar schools and increase defence spending.

There are no caveats here. Their absence is the luxury afforded to a party that'll never have to put its ideas into practice. But Ukip's platform does stand in stark contrast to what one minister calls 'the mini-managerialism' of the three main parties. The other striking thing about Farage is his self-confidence. He isn't apologetic about who he is or what he believes. Travel with Farage and he goes firstclass with no attempt to pretend that he'd rather be in standard. One can't imagine him posing for snaps designed to show how modest his holiday is. He doesn't appear to feel the need to try to demonstrate 'ordinariness' that so many politicians do. It seems to come naturally to him.

To describe Farage as unspun would be wrong. He talks about the need for 'clever marketing, simple, straightforward messages that resonate and appeal and hit.' But he has grasped that spin now does the opposite of what it was invented to do. …

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