Published on 22 May 2014

An election day like no other?

What a strange election campaign indeed.

Never before can one man have so dominated local and European elections. The media could not get enough Nigel Farage.

With the exception of a remarkable interview on LBC, the media never laid a finger on him. The more the media tried to probe him, the more he presented the classic man-in-the-pub Englishman, game for both an argument and a laugh.

Somehow whatever the media brought in criticism and bad news, the more popular he and his very English party became. In this presidential age in British politics, it’s the man, not the party that counts.

Party Leaders Vote In European and Local Elections

It seems that Mr Farage was fighting a campaign that was about persuading punters that he was the only man around they might stop and have a drink with. Clegg? Cameron? Milliband? None of them seemed likely to last long at Mr Farage’s bar.

It wasn’t even a question of wanting him in power. The electorate seemed to be in a none-of-the-above mood. Indeed, today’s vote will almost certainly be won by those who won’t vote at all.

In talking to voters it is hard to find many who seriously think that the votes they cast will make much difference. For many, coalition life at a national level has led to a more or less comfortable loss of party identities. But coalition life seems to have been accompanied by an estrangement from politics altogether. Maria Miller’s expenses didn’t help, nor did the “sexminster” allegations aired on Channel 4 News.

The estrangement in Scotland continues to put wind in pro-independence sails. “Blame Brussels” has had a field day, and I find a lurking fear abroad in the country that we might drift into the break-up of the UK accompanied by a departure from Europe.

I suspect that neither will happen, but the stage is set so that both could happen.

Casting ahead, it’s hard to see how political choice will be re-energised. Perhaps in the Internet age of me, you, and my mobile, people don’t want them re-energised.

There’s no evidence that political life elsewhere is any more exuberant. War and banking seem to have taken their toll on public life in the past few years. Maybe Iraq, Afghanistan, and the crash took a much greater toll upon us than we knew.

I hope I’m wrong, but this election day feels unlike any other.

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12 reader comments

  1. Nick Jones says:

    Why don’t you ever comment of the growth of support for the Greens? Left leaning voters are giving up on Labour and the Greens are the main beneficiaries. That could be a long term change that will have a real impact long after Farage is gone.

  2. Philip says:

    I believe there’s a real threat that the electorate could end up taking some decisions that they will come to regret bitterly later. Unfortunately, the political class (and much of the media) have brought it on themselves. Though I profoundly disagree with Philip Edwards’s diatribes against London and Londoners (many of whom are the opposite of what he appears to believe they are), the fact is that the political process and national media appear largely focused in and on London. Politicians have stopped engaging with ordinary people. They treat us like consumers, to be wooed by PR and short-lived publicity campaigns which often contain a poisonous brew of “factoids” (something that is true but may be utterly misleading), misleading statistics, oversimplifications and misleading attacks on their opponents. Their contact with most of us is by way of selected focus groups, rather than getting out and listening to thousands of us. They seem cut off – a political class with no experience of the world other than politics.
    It isn’t surprising after what has happened in the last 10 years that Farage is doing so well. The fact that he seems like “a bloke in a pub”, appears to have had some contact with ordinary human beings and has a simple solution to the UK’s problems is enough…Not least, as you rightly say, he represents the “none of the above”, in the way that the LibDems used to.
    The only way the main political parties can regain the confidence of a substantial chunk of the electorate is to change their whole structure and approach. They need to get back to where they came from – building organisations at grassroots level, engaging in their local communities, being known as councillors or prospective councillors for trying to understand the problems felt in their locality and building the party’s programme on that. That doesn’t mean that Labour, for instance, should tacitly accept the xenophobia which has attracted many erstwhile voters to UKIP. But it needs to engage – not assume that people will continue to be bought by carefully chosen “campaigns” (like the cost of living one) or sound-bites & other forms of PR. Labour needs to stand for something. At the moment I haven’t the faintest idea what that is. Ditto the LibDems. Both are invisible in my area. Despite the advances in communication via the Internet, people have to be engaged in discourse. The parties offer me an artificial and superficial interaction usually followed by a request for money. Until I see something radically different emerging, they won’t be getting anything.
    Do I see them changing? No. They are the wrong people, stuck in a way of thinking & operating resulting from their life experience. So the result of Thursday’s votes will make the general election more unpredictable and potentially immensely damaging for the UK, as I predict the Conservatives will take a large step to the right & will take great strides towards the UKIP position on the EU.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      As ever Philip you share a thoughtful analysis of the State of our Nations.

      One of the big disputes about public policy – which is what “politics” is – involves the divisions in our society. Some people sincerely believe that wide variations and inequalities are natural and make society work more effectively. There is another sentiment that favours the idea that most of humanity are the fundamentally the same. They believe that national sovereignty is only of use because of the need to have laws and ways of updating them.

      There is a key difference in philosophy within most of Europe and North America. That is between those who wish to reduce inequalities and divisions which Labour used to adhere to, and those who resist those changes. Moreover, all political parties get contaminated by invaders who don’t share their core philosophies. For example, changes in the UK have pushed Labour into becoming the public sector and trade union party that has pushed equalities down Labour’s agenda. Conservatives were invaded in the 1950s by an internationalist sentiment that led the UK into the European Union on the false premise that it was a better form of free trade. The revolts of the 1980s and later have divided that party on the issue of our relations with Europe.
      I leave it to others to work out where we go from here? Maybe a multi-party future awaits us with all the secret deals that would imply? Nobody knows.

  3. Paul says:

    “Man in the pub” image. Does this appeal mainly to male voters? Are women voting for Farage? Given equal numbers of men and women, should parties do more to gain the female vote, rather than Farage targeting white drinking men?

  4. Kathryn Dodd says:

    I think you could be right. Did it start with Blair and New Labour? This new modern politics was based on life in metropolitan London + a Westminster political class which was sold Thatcher’s market/financial economic policies + a reliance on its ethnic vote at the expense of traditional white WC voters. What followed was mass alienation as non-met, non-ideological, traditionally white WC culture was disenfranchised. There is a parallel with the rise of the Tea Party in the US. As the first generation aspirational group realise that their children would do less well than they had and that relative prosperity was a short lived aberration, political alienation is reinforced. Hence the rise of UKIP which appeals to the ‘never votes’. Perhaps there has to be PR to give voice to this real frustration with 2/3 party Westminster politics?

  5. Philip Edwards says:

    Jon,

    I do not accept Farage as – your words – “very English.”

    He is nothing more than a political barrow boy, ein blotten trommel. History is full of his type in all nationalities.

    UKIP have indeed (as expected) made voting inroads. But then so did the so-called “Social Democrats,” and we all know what happened to that gang of political traitors.

    Long term, UKIP’s future is with the tories. That is where they will end up, in the same paranoid dead end and corner shop mentality. They are a right wing, racist gang who for the moment exist on the backs of manufactured fears. But sooner or later people get fed up with being afraid and turn on the cause of their fear. UKIP can only get away with xenophobia and racism for so long before they are found out.

    Farage and his crew are merely one symptom of political reshuffling that has taken place across the planet since Gorbachev sensibly called off the Cold War. For the time being they are useful to the Establishment in splitting working class solidarity. Hence the coverage they get. Eventually Farage will get the same treatment as Griffin and the BNP – unless he does as he’s told.

    What you are seeing is the Brit extreme right wing Establishment trying out various individuals and organisations as it seeks to maintain its position. As the economic situation deteriorates you will see more of it in various forms, some of it spontaneous, some of it preplanned. Farage and Griffin were spontaneous.

    When the Cold War finished the Right gloated, “It’s the end of history and we won.” But they were wrong: History is about to regenerate. It always does, and always will, assuming we avoid the nuclear holocaust the madmen in the Pentagon and NATO would love to see.

    Farage is nothing more than a pus-filled pimple on the face of British politics.

    1. Cathy Kitchiner says:

      Hello. Ive been reading your comments and wonder what your all so scared of? I vote and stand for local elections for UKIP. I am not a racist. I dont care what colour anyone is or their origins. The indiginous british are made up of lots of races and have been forever. I am a patriot and proud of it! Being in Europe means we no longer have a say what happens in our courts, our country or our banks. Its Germany and others trying to win the war by coming in through the back door! My grandfather, uncles who never came back from the war, did not fight for this country just to let them win in a sneaky way by creating the so called european union. Bloody pity that you idiots cannot see it!

  6. David Hollins says:

    UKIP make no progress in London – hardly surprising that Wharton was trying to rig the ballot in his Referendum Bill by using the General Election franchise then.

    “Pub-Englishman” – with a Belgian father and a German wife! interesting that UKIP has made progress in Rotherham and Dudley – rather than Romanians, had Farage said he didn’t want Jamaicans or Pakistanis living next door, he would have fallen foul of the race relations legislation. Much of this hat towards Europeans is simply covering up real dislike of more far-flung immigration.

  7. H Statton says:

    Strange in a way that we have not seen a modern widespread change in the landscape like this since Thatcher was swept to power in 1979 or Tony Blair’s Labour won by a landslide victory in 1987?

    How much of it is due to public disenchantment and lack of genuine positivity? Are the public just making known their discontentment at the major parties via local and European elections by not voting? As some people don’t know what exactly goes on in Brussels they don’t feel inclined to vote. As for the former, I often here the phrase, ‘they’re all just the same’.

    Yesterday at my local polling-station I saw mainly young and old people voting and precious little in between. Maybe the ‘cultured, educated and young’ (to use Nigel Farage’s words) turned up to vote for an ‘established’ party and the old turned up to vote for Ukip as Ukip claim the party better represent a very real (generation-induced!?) fear of the likes of foreigners and homosexuals etc. which should be taken seriously. Or is that just you Nigel? Whichever way you look at it, it’s pretty insulting all round.

    If Ukip do well it may galvanise the non-voters to go to the polling-stations at the next General Election. Ukip, Uslip. Here I am not unlike the media giving them the limelight. And that’s just it – is this a light that burns fast and bright but then burns out, or will it last and linger until the General Election?

    Prior to the 1987 General Election I remember walking into the city centre one day and being visually accosted by two billboard posters which were fittingly enough opposite each other. One was promoting Labour, the other Conservatives.

    What struck me most was the message of hope – there was none. Both posters were centred on saying how bad the other side was. For me is resonated the image of the House of Commons and its collection of old Etonians, bubbling fools, sound bites, and feeble personal gibes. It was the stuff typical of Prime Minister’s question time.

    It occurred to me it was such a shame that politics had descended into a game of mud-slinging and naught else. A government blaming a predecessor’s ineptitude for the current administration’s weaknesses and failings has always been fair game, now more than ever. It is the ‘get out of jail’ card’ played by many. The difference is now it appears almost pre-emptive.

    I think the General Election will be a different story and probably a two horse race – Labour versus the Conservatives. I hope that during the election campaign all parties will provide a reason why we should vote for them, that they extol their own virtues and beliefs, and not simply provide reasons why not to vote for ‘them’, the ‘dark side’ of the political force.

  8. Tom Wright says:

    Just why is it that MSM news outlets are so afraid of addressing the key concerns of UKip voters? They are simple enough:

    1. rule of the unelected EU put in power over us without our consent. That’s a fact, don’t cavil.
    2. The waves of mass immigration which have accompanied the loss of sovereignty.

    The two are intertwined. Immigration is one of the big reasons why we don’t like the EU – not the only, but definitely a big one. Not one mention of it in your blog above John. Why? You scared of the ‘R’ word too?

    Ordinary Brits don’t recognise the country they grew up in – its changed out of all recognition. We don’t know if Farage is fascist in sheep’s clothing, but we do know that the Lib Dems and Labour will rule out change in our relationship with the EU and that Cameron’s conservatives have already reneged on one referendum promise. We’re sick of being called racists – and seeing UKip compared to the repulsive BNP, and by extension all UKip voters. In case you hadn’t noticed, that’s rather a lot of people.

    And to be frank, we’re sick of politicians and journalists dodging the issue, pouring scorn on our concerns, patronising us and ignoring us.

  9. Neil Craig says:

    The “media could not get enough” of Farage.

    What a load of lies. The, obedient media, led by the state owned broadcasters having found censoring UKIP didn’t work, have been spinning, smearing and lying throughout the campaign. If Join needs a link to present he could do the bit about C4 interviewing a Rumanian, purely to get her to denounce Farage as racist, only to have her say the particular Rumanians in question are indeed the criminal element and she wouldn’t like them next door either.

    The media’s problem is not obviously not their inability to get enough of him but that, after a while, such obvious lying and slanting only discredits the liars and slanters. The British people are not fools, no matter what those in charge think, and they can see censorship and smears when it is done that obviously.

  10. Constance Blackwell says:

    There is one good story in Europe – it is the victory of Renzi in Italy – a young man in his late 30’s who has a program that offers hope – while he – just having the experience of being mayor of Florence is young – he is backed by some of the most senior economists – and has been part of a political movement that has grown up around Florence –
    why not do a good story on them – terrific people – one person who has been working on this for years is Sandra Bonsanti – who has just written a book about her life as a politician and journalist – who fought the people who killed Calvi – Renzi’s victory should give the young labour people in camden heart –

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