Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Enough Craftiness and Political Leeway

John Harris writes:

At last, it seems to be hitting home. The chatter about the result of the Eastleigh byelection may have its overheated aspects, but at its heart is something incontestable. It is what some people would call a crisis of political representation, highlighted by Ukip's 28% of the poll and second placing, and the cacophony of noise in response to its success.

Over the weekend, so many politicians and pundits told the same story that by Saturday evening it had become a clich̩: a tale of an out-of-touch political class, and an electorate that will punish them at any opportunity. That this view of things was voiced by such latter-day Wat Tylers as the former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore and senior rightwinger Bernard Jenkin only confirms how deep the problem is, and how much it eats away at the soul of the Tories. As well it should Рfor this is essentially a story about conservatism, with a small and a large "c", and the fact that in England, no mainstream party truly understands or gives convincing voice to it.

It dates back at least 30 years. From the early 1980s onwards, Margaret Thatcher and her governments embedded a new notion in the collective Tory mind, and British politics more widely: that politicians should be judged by their radicalism and obstinacy. Self-evidently, this was not Conservatism as anyone had previously understood it – but up until the poll tax saw boldness curdling into hubris, the party and its wider constituency were in almost full support. This was because grim times seemed to demand drastic answers, and because the Thatcherites' mouldbreaking economics were intertwined with their social conservatism [how, exactly?].

Meanwhile, serial defeats for the Labour party eventually led to the arrival of the cult of the so-called modernisers, pledged to force their party to swallow the fact that Thatcher had changed the country for keeps. Though Gordon Brown eventually spurned this next aspect of their credo, Tony Blair and his followers also came to be believers in the permanent radicalism that had so gripped the Thatcherites. "Reform" was their watchword and they had one new article of faith: that the best proof of any leader's bona fides was the habit of loudly defining themselves against their own side. Eventually, this became almost pathological, as swaths of the party, the unions – and, by extension, millions of voters – were decried as hopeless throwbacks.

By 2005, the game was almost up: in the aftermath of the Iraq war, let us not forget, Blair somehow won an election in which his support was down to not much more than a fifth of the electorate.

By then, it was the Tories' turn to be taken over by modernisers, passionately in thrall to Blair and his disciples' example. David Cameron's early stabs at offending Tory traditionalists – hugging huskies and hoodies, the contemptible W10 wind turbine – were barely serious, but their effect still lingers, and the same approach was seen when he picked a fight over same-sex marriage.

Most people on the left applauded that move, and rightly so, but that is not the point: in the eyes of his detractors, here was more proof of a clique prone to see their own side as a source of frustration and annoyance. This is something Cameron reportedly makes as much personal as political. His remains a politics rooted in upscale capital postcodes rather than the shires and suburbs: hyperactive and reform-crazed, and characterised by a Blairesque belief that any worthwhile prime minister must notch up plenty of foreign entanglements .It is largely rightwing, perhaps, but hardly conservative.

And in that sense, it bumps up against a huge and inconvenient fact. Albeit with a small rather than a large "c", conservative still describes millions of people. They do not like the establishment's tendency to piety (or, if we must, political correctness), and fear that it has now gripped most of Westminster.

Many suspect that the politics of climate change amounts to so much hysteria. They find the recent experience of immigration troubling – not because they are racists, but because they have justified worries about whether our social fabric can cope. The EU does not annoy them quite as much as some people think, but its distant authority and relevance to immigration makes them open to the idea that we may be best off leaving. And yes, many of them are unsure about the idea of same-sex marriage – not because they justify all those amped-up warnings about "bigots", but because it was a radical change to an enduring institution, and such things always cause some people unease.

To acknowledge all this is not to endorse it: they are not my tribe. But within their politics, there are elements that are traceable to the left rather than the right: an enduring belief in the NHS, a common conviction that the railways would be best off renationalised.

Their views on so-called welfare can seem punitive, but they may yet be rattled by such injustices as the spare bedroom tax, and what the government is doing to disabled people. Besides, though many read the Daily Mail, they do not share the apocalyptic views of, say, its renowned columnist Melanie Phillips: boiled down, their take on the world amounts to a gentle though occasionally tetchy scepticism. It is as much about broad values as anything specific: anti-metropolitanism, a profound dislike of hype and cant, a belief that governments should see to the home front before they fret about anything abroad.

In some places, none of this is any great bar to voting Labour. Indeed, in Wales that party is to some extent a conservative institution, there to keep Westminster's market-based meddling at bay, and cling on to what remains of the post-1945 settlement. In Scotland, part of Alex Salmond's triumph has been his contempt for Blair and his legacy, the SNP's resistance to London-born ideas of "reform", and their 58-year-old leader's embodiment of cultural continuity rather than gimmicky change. But in England, conservatism's story remains bound up with the Conservative party [not up here, it doesn't] – and here, Cameron is found wanting, while Nigel Farage has enough craftiness and political leeway to make hay.

Panicked, the Tory leader assures us there will be no "lurch to the right", just as Blair used to follow electoral wobbles by assuring the country that he wanted nothing to do with the left. Cameron claims to empathise with people who, in the recent past, "wanted to talk about Britain being great again" but were "made to feel nostalgic and old-fashioned". But the key aspect of his predicament is impossible to get around: it is not what he does, but who he is. Whether they warrant a big or a small "c", most conservatives want to be led by one of their own – and in any decently functioning democracy, that is surely the least they deserve.

Over to you, Ken Bell:

About Me

I was born in 1956 and left school in 1971 at the age of 15. I did a variety of jobs for the next decade or so and then at the age of 27 I went off to university, first to Ruskin College, Oxford, and then the University of Manchester. My wife is Mexican and I am the father of two Anglo-Mexican sons.

You can call me on 07 407 375 153 or click HERE to email me.

My Views


Thatcher took away our jobs, but at least we were left alone to enjoy a smoke whilst we drowned our sorrows down the pub. Blair took even that pleasure away from us as part of a seeming drive to force ordinary people to behave as the London based metropolitan elite wanted. Labour banned the old Lancashire hobby of hare coursing, and the Tories promised to repeal that ban, but of course, they never did. People believe that the old politicians are all the same and who can argue with that when the politicians seem to agree more with each other than they do with us?

The European Union just adds to the burden that ordinary working people struggle under. If it is not the bend in a banana then it is the forced drive to make us use the metric system. We may laugh at this nonsense, but it costs money to enforce, money which you are taxed to provide.

At local level the social work industry has now decided that members of my party are not to be trusted as foster parents. At the same time when the parents of young girls in several northern mill towns complained to members of the social work industry that Muslim men were abusing their daughters, they were given the insouciant reply that the girls had made “a lifestyle choice.” In other words, members of the overpaid, undereducated social work industry were not prepared to do anything about crimes that were being committed under their very noses, but they were more than happy to try and intimidate the members of democratic political parties such as UKIP.

At the county level there is a lot that I can do to ease the burden of too much government from your shoulders. I do not see the role of councillor as being one of honest broker between the people and the council bureaucracy; rather a councillor should be the people’s spokesman, arguing their cases against the powers that be.

Why Am I Standing?

Every party has let us down. Our grandfathers created Labour as a vehicle to represent ordinary people, but it now seems to champion everyone else but the ordinary people of Britain, to the extent that in government Labour opened our country’s borders to allow all and sundry to flood in to cut the wages. The Tories supported that policy just as they support the coming influx of Bulgarians and Romanians to our island in January 2014. The Liberal-Democrats will say anything to get elected, as they demonstrated when they promised not to increase university fees, before agreeing to do just that. The British National Party is on the road to oblivion, due to its own stupidity.

Pendle Central deserves better than this, and if you elect me, I pledge to speak for you, the people, and your issues.

If all UKIP candidates were like Ken...

In point of fact, if the lead UKIP candidate in the North East were in this vein, then I could almost see myself voting UKIP at next year's European Election.

It would depend who else was on the ballot paper, and on who was, or was not, on the Labour list.

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