With the UK General Election still over six months away, the media speculation machine is reaching fever pitch. Daily predictions and counter-predictions, polls and counter-polls, factuals and counter-factuals are being debated and dissected. There is certainly no shortage of big, unanswered questions.
Can Labour win back power? Will Ed Miliband cost Labour the election? Will there be a late Tory surge? How far will the Liberal Democrats fall? How high can UKIP go? How many seats will the SNP filch from Labour? Is an outright majority beyond both Labour and the Tories?
Pundits, pollsters and partisans are struggling to come up with any convincing, comprehensive answers. The 2015 UK general election is the most fascinatingly unpredictable in living memory. Everything is up in the air. Nonetheless, there is one rather significant thing we can say, about which we can be absolutely certain, because, in a way, it has already happened: UKIP will win.
This is not to say that Nigel Farage’s ‘people’s army’ will storm the Bastille, prepare the metaphorical guillotines and enjoy an astonishing majority in the House of Commons. Spoiler alert: they won’t. Neither is it to say that UKIP will win the highest percentage of the vote of any party. Another spoiler: they won’t. It is to say that, regardless of the precise configuration of seats and percentages that emerges in the wee small hours of May 8th, UKIP will, in political spirit and policy substance, emerge victorious.
Whoever forms the next UK government, whether Labour or Conservative, a single-party majority or a multi-party coalition, will go further in advancing and implementing UKIP’s vision of an isolationist, anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic Britain than ever before. Why? Because the Conservatives and, to some extent, Labour have signed up wholesale to UKIP’s core agenda.
UKIP’s driving principles are the classic Daily Mail triumvirate of hostility towards the EU, immigration and the welfare state. They want a referendum on British withdrawal from the EU, an end to (or at least a drastic cut in) immigration and an end to what they believe to be the gargantuan benefits doled out to skivers and scroungers. In each of these key areas, quickly emerging as the key election battlegrounds, both Labour and the Tories are going out of their way to ape UKIP.
The Tories have promised to hold an in/out referendum on the EU before 2017 and to continue taking action to reduce net migration into Britain. Labour, while opposing such a referendum, continue to call for ‘reform’ of the UK’s relationship with Brussels and to emphasise it ‘understands people’s concerns’ over immigration and will reduce it significantly. Neither Ed Miliband nor David Cameron appears to have a good thing to say about the EU these days. Moreover, both Labour and Tories have also promised to continue with the same programme of harsh austerity economics, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls promising to match George Osborne cut for cut. Both Labour and the Tories are pledging tough action on those out of work and claiming benefits, fighting to see who can promise to cut the welfare state more.
So, let’s take a look at the Cameron-Miliband scorecard: Highly Eurosceptic? Check. Less immigration? Check. Thatcherism 2.0? Check.
Both Labour and the Tories believe that only by moving ever rightward, by occupying UKIP’s traditional right-wing territory, can they stem the flow of disillusioned, anti-establishment voters abandoning them in favour of Nigel Farage and his merry men. Without pressure on their core votes from UKIP, neither Miliband nor Cameron would have gone this far on the EU, immigration or the welfare state.
The centre ground of British politics is perhaps more right-wing than ever before. The only UK-wide parties resisting this trend – the Lib Dems and the Greens – have been ostracised and struggle to poll more than nine percent and four percent respectively.
British politics is heading into dangerous territory. The demonisation and dehumanisation of migrants continues apace, spreading like wildfire across the political spectrum. In the past few days, former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett intervened to support current Tory Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s comments that some parts of the UK felt ‘under siege’ and ‘swamped’ by immigrants. Blunkett claimed it was time to ‘lance the boil’ of the immigration issue.
Clearly, it is no longer political suicide to echo xenophobic sentiments. Describing newcomers to Britain as though they were an invading army or horticultural pests has not been fatal to Fallon’s career. In fact, nobody appears to have questioned his position in one of the great offices of state. Such views – brought into the open for perhaps the first time by Enoch Powell decades ago, resurrected by the BNP and popularised by UKIP – are now part of the mainstream of Westminster politics.
For all intents and purposes, UKIP is already in power. UKIP’s agenda is the Westminster agenda. Even if UKIP fail to win a place in some kind of formal or informal coalition government, it won’t matter. Fear of UKIP and their rising popularity, has turned Labour and the Tories into UKIP-lite. Vote Tory, get UKIP; vote Labour, get UKIP; vote UKIP (you guessed it), get UKIP.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so the saying goes. Nigel should be flattered: every Westminster politician is trying to be him.
By David Kelly