Wednesday 25 February 2015

The king's favourite jester

Oh dear. I was hoping to be able to progress onto other more interesting matters but this continues to linger. Now before you groan and say "not another piece attacking Ukip", it isn't. This is really an insight into the Westminster bubble and the toxic influence of prestige. Here we have yet another boilerplate Matthew Goodwin article, recycling months old material, parading his astonishing ignorance about Ukip.

He's busy peddling his wares to anyone who will listen and has now secured himself a nice little residency behind the Times Paywall which affords him prestige. Consequently, it is impossible for him to admit his narrative is flawed and outdated and so like all bubble dwellers has sealed himself off from critics outside the bubble so as not to draw attention to anything that would threaten his standing as court scribe. Ironically, there's almost a Ukip dynamic to it. So once again I am left with the unenviable task of fisking it. I'll spare you the opening verbiage and get straight to the meat of it.
Fast forward twenty years and Sked would barely recognise his fringe party. Under Nigel Farage, Ukip has evolved into an altogether different beast. It talks as much about immigration and Europe.
Ok, well here's the first sticking point. I'm not the only one in the eurosceptic community to notice that Ukip barely talks about the EU at all anymore. At most eurosceptic events there's an empty chair that was once occupied by Ukip. It is more or less still a single issue party, only now all it does is bang on about immigration. He continues:
When Ukip won the 2014 European elections it became the first new party for more than 100 years to win the highest share of the vote at a nationwide election.

Along the way it attracted a base in local government, more than 40,000 members, and has been regularly polling ahead of the traditional third party and attracted two Conservative MPs – both of who went on to win parliamentary by-elections, one of which we were all told Ukip could not win.
I refuse to believe Matthew is stupid. It's true that academic types are not necessarily intelligent people or even capable people, but he doesn't strike me as a thicko, thus one can only conclude he is being intellectually dishonest. Firstly, all non-Westminster votes in the UK are more opinion polls on the incumbent government. They are treated less seriously than general elections, there is no real European Parliament demos or indeed pan-European grassroots movements, thus it is more a protest vote.

Ukip is a known eurosceptic party. It was also one enjoying a tidal wave of comparatively good press at a time when the EU was not held in the highest esteem. Ukip would have had to work extraordinarily hard to screw that up. Secondly, the notion that two high profile defections of two known euroscpetic Tories, in a sea of publicity represents a breakthrough for Ukip is not entirely honest. We have yet to see Ukip put a candidate on the map and win on their own merit. These are political events that Ukip have been the beneficiary of rather than the driver. In protest dynamics people vote for Ukip because of what they are not, not what they are.

To read into this that Ukip is a movement rather than the beneficiary of circumstance is to completely misunderstand Ukip and British politics as it happens. He continues:
There are two reasons why Ukip presents a major threat to our established politics. The first concerns sociology – or the social roots of its revolt. Ukip is a threat because it has already won over the most socially distinctive base of voters in Britain.

Sked – who spent his time in leafy Conservative suburbs – would barely recognise Ukip voters today. Farage has the most working-class base since Michael Foot led the Labour Party. With an income of around £25,000, the average Ukipper has just enough to get by but not enough to get ahead –most are probably one family crisis away from disaster. They left school at the earliest opportunity, typically have no qualifications and will not thrive like the new professional middle-class graduates.
He waffles on further about his pet demographic, the "left behind" which is nothing we didn't know. His second reason being "Ukip is a threat because it is being fuelled by far deeper divides in our society."
It is essentially riding a wave of generational and social change that has been building for 30 years. It is a widening divide between the left behind who feel intensely anxious about perceived threats to the nation, their values and ways of life, and the professional middle-class who hold a fundamentally different set of values.

So don’t think of Ukip as a party, think of it as symptom of social change.

Farage could disappear tomorrow, but before too long there will be another articulator of this change that many voters find threatening. It is these social roots among blue-collar Britons that give Ukip far more power than, say, the Greens.
Dealing with the first point, there is about a 65/35 split at last count between northern left and southern right. But it is a very narrow constituency and the more the party gears its appeal to them, the more it repels everyone else. Because it's the politics of losers. And I should know

As to the second point, Farage could disappear tomorrow. He probably won't, but he will eventually. And look at what's left. Suzanne Evans the halfwit, make-up slathered racist Janice Atkinson, Lunchtime O'Flynn the fool, Tim "the dog ate it" Aker, and Paul Nuttall the thug. And what intellectual assets do they have between them? Nadda, nuthin', zilch, zero.

Can you just imagine what a fight for the leadership crown is going to look like between them and Carswell who has all the charisma of an overflowing ashtray. Here Goodwin betrays his complete lack of insight and his total inability to read people. No Northern old school labour man is going to follow Carswell, especially when his quasi-libertarian ideas start leaking out.

Ukip has nothing then to rest on. It has no ongoing campaigns, it has no strategy beyond putting bums on seats. Without the iron fist of Farage, these bozos will blow it, and Farage is repellent to most voters thus he cannot grow the party. As soon as Farage goes, Ukip will collapse about as fast as the BNP did, give or take one last hurrah.

Ukip is not the articulation of a movement. It's an opportunity to fling shit at the establishment. If it were a movement, we would see Ukip councillors put to good use with co-ordinated attacks and campaigns, but instead we get the crass excuse that Ukip does not whip councillors. Which is another way of saying they let them flap around in the wind, because all that really matters is those bums on seats. Ukip doesn't do any of the things that movements do. It doesn't even really know why it has to win councils and what to do with them if it did.

Goodwin postulates:
This is why, in May, it will be in working-class seats along England’s East Coast where we will see some of the strongest results for Ukip. If you ask me how many seats the party will win, I would say six: Clacton, Rochester and Strood, Thanet South, Thurrock, Castle Point and then either Great Grimsby or Boston and Skegness.

Throw in an outlier and I could see this number rising as seats such as Dudley North, Rotherham and South Basildon and East Thurrock enter the equation.

But six would be enough for Farage, and for his organizers. It is consistent with their long term strategy.
Has Goodwin been in a cave for the last fortnight? Thanet is now a total non-starter for obvious reasons, and Reckless has made a enough of a prat of himself that he's been off the radar for a while now. His chances of holding a very slim majority in a general election are tiny. As to the others, Goodwin is flipping a coin same as everyone else (so much for prestige). What will win it is a well focussed, co-ordinated campaign, properly supported by a competent back office. ie not Ukip. Then look at the north says Goodwin.
It is highly likely that Ukip will emerge as the second force in more than seventy constituencies while pushing Labour hard in seats like Hartlepool and Heywood and Middleton. Look at Lord Ashcroft’s poll in Burnley – 27 per cent for Ukip – where they don’t even have an active branch.
Basically, BNP country. But also places where people hate Tories. If there is the remotest chance of a Tory win, they will vote Labour. They will risk a Kipper vote when it's not a vote that matters, but minds will focus as the election becomes a two horse race.
Of the 50 most Ukip-friendly seats in the country, 42 are currently held by Labour. So we can expect to see majorities whittled away as Ukip builds a serious presence

Indeed, the indirect impact of Ukip at this election will be just as important as its direct impact. Some estimate that a surge in Ukip support could damage Labour’s prospects in 59 seats, while it could damage local Conservative prospects in 67 seats, possibly more.

He might not play a major role in post-election discussions but there are sets of elections that point to how the 2015-2020 parliament may see Farage mobilise a revolt of greater magnitude.
This would be the "Ukip effect". It cost Cameron an outright victory last time. Old school Kippers are well aware of this. More than a few will be reluctant to do it again if it means passing up a referendum on the EU and putting Miliband in number ten. The party is bleeding support, it is suffering major credibility problems and Ukip has been in a downward trend since Christmas. There is now no mystique to Ukip and people now are well aware of who they're voting for - fruitcakes. "Peak twat" has been and gone with absolutely zero chance of them recovering their reputation so badly squandered last May.For sure, Ukip will be disruptive and change the running orders in a lot of places, but with or without Ukip, whoever lives in Number Ten in May will still be an accident of numbers.
On the same day as the general election Ukip will likely see major gains in local elections, including entire councils in its Kent and Essex heartlands that are up for election. And then in 2016 there is Wales, where Ukip is predicted to win at least seven seats in the assembly.

This is what Ukippers call their “2020 strategy”, usurping the toxic Tories in the north, and emerging like the radical right in Austria, France and Scandinavia as a major threat in red territory

A second point that underlines Ukip’s threat is strategy, or more accurately the lack of it. And not within Ukip, but our main parties. Farage has been consistently underestimated – and his party has never been understood. 
This is unwise territory for Goodwin to tread on. Rune reading is an imprecise science and the further you go into the future, the less credible you'll be. Ukip is famous for walking into every trap set for it and scoring every own goal. More than this, events happen. But there is one constant in all this. Assuming Farage is still around, he will continue to be Farage. That means more vapid and crass speeches, more anti-intellectualism, more tub-thumping about immigration and a further drift toward authoritarian populism. That can stagnate, but it can't grow. But now we're done with rune-reading, Goodwin tries his hand at moral posturing with all the usual hackneyed declarations about where Ukip comes from and how the establishment mocked and scorned the working class instead of listening to them. Standard fare.
Back in May we were all given an opportunity. As a society, we could have seriously tried to understand the roots of Ukip’s appeal, to ask far more interesting questions about these divides in modern Britain that are reflected back to us in Farage. But we didn’t. Instead we laughed, mocked, dismissed and went on a rather pointless hunt for loony Ukip candidates –even when it was clear that this was making no difference.
But this overlooks the fact articles of this type have been endless since way before last May, and everybody has seen one of its type. Everybody knows what Ukip is about and has for some time. The only difference between then and now is that the Tories appear to have worked out that they are more electable without the Ukip tendency and that Ukip are unappeasable so it's pointless to even try. You can give them everything they could possibly want and they would still complain. That's what losers do. Instead the Tories have been busy working on a confident message of a resurgent Britain, climbing out of a tough recession with tenacity. It's working too.

So too is the relentless mockery. No party could ever hope to withstand such a sustained campaign. It was a process of elimination. At first they tried the sleaze and scandal angle. That doesn't really work these days because mucky though Farage is, he's still got nothing on many of the crooks in power, but then when Farage gifted them the race card by going full on anti-immigration, the anti-fascist left found a new whipping boy, while the media focused on the credibility gap, where Ukip was most exposed - and still is. Goodwin concludes:
The main parties often cry out that Farage is wrong but they never seem to have the courage to take his arguments on – look at the leadership debates, or Labour’s stance toward an EU referendum. Labour MPs say that a referendum is bad politics, but I say that it is perhaps the only thing that could allow Labour to set out its stall and begin reconnecting with its rapidly dwindling blue-collar base.
But perhaps most importantly, and finally, after spending four years increasing public concern about immigration our parties have now gone silent. They started a conversation and have left Farage to finish it. Look at the latest surveys & polls; Ukip is now the preferred party among voters on immigration.
In other words, for the first time in British political history the Conservatives have squandered their lead on this issue –which also happens to be the most important issue for voters – and handed it to Ukip. With issue ownership comes durability – another reason why over the longer-term Ukip, or a party that looks a lot like it, will pose a major threat to the main parties.
Ukip might well be the preferred party on immigration - but immigration will not be the issue on which the election is fought. Michael Howard campaign on immigration - and lost badly. This election is ultimately about the pound in the voters pockets while the left invoke the NHS religion. It's a petty issue free election, and were there not an EU referendum on the table, I very much doubt I would bother voting at all. But if I were nay of the main parties, I would be a great deal more relaxed about Ukip. Even if by some miracle Goodwin is right, the spotlight will fall on Ukip MPs and they will be such odious specimens that their first term will be their last.

Some of us are jumping the gun and writing Ukip's epitaph already, but few now believe Ukip is a sustainable force and most don't believe it will still be around in ten years. Of that I have no doubt. Ukip may fade but the appetite for change will not. Eventually a serious movement with a serious agenda will come along. One that has learned the lessons from Ukips many failings. One that has the wit and sophistication to know how the game is played. And that's the one that may not even need to win an MP to change the face of politics forever.

Goodwin mistakes Farage's clan for a movement ad a serious contender for power. He is perhaps one of the last outside Ukip who truly believes that. He mistakes Farage's lack of strategy and policy for genius when it has in fact been their undoing, as has been documented by this blog. In ten years time this blog will be a good reference of what actually happened and how. But in ten years time we'll be reading Goodwin and laughing at how the great and the good got it so spectacularly wrong, and still afforded a prestigious platform to speak his ignorance to the powers that be. The only one more surprised than Kippers at Ukip's failure to materialise as a credible threat to the established parties will be Matthew Goodwin. He should perhaps give up on the Ukip analysis and take a look at the Green Party instead. At the very least they will appreciate his commitment to recycling and reuse of old material.

It's just as well he's a one trick pony because fisking him is seriously boring. Thankfully there is zero risk of him changing his tune so I won't have to do it again. When you're writing in the Times, you're allowed to be as wrong as you like. Reality shall not intrude and the paycheques keep landing on the doormat. Meanwhile, outside of the Westminster bubble, us complete bastards will be setting the record straight for when Goodwin is no longer the kings favourite jester - and is ejected from the bubble.

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