Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Assume the position

POSITION A. The British Conservative Party is revived. It is lean, mean and led from the front by a new man. The UK Independence Party with its 16 per cent poll share is a blip. Europe is not a swing issue with the electorate. The UKIP's maverick voters will return to the Tory fold come a proper election. Tony Blair is on the run. The Opposition needs only to keep its head. The UKIP is a passing gadfly.

POSITION B. The UKIP has moved the earth. Half the electorate wants out of the European Union and Michael Howard has missed the bus. He has allowed the UKIP to escape the Tory coalition and win established party status. Local Tories are fiercely anti-EU, held in check only by a faltering loyalty to their London leadership. The UKIP could lose half its present strength and still wreck the Tories’ uphill struggle to election victory. Mr Howard must make peace with them or face humiliation and defeat.

So writes Simon Jenkins in this morning's Times. Guess which position he takes? And guess which position Mr Howard and his dismal crew of "excused thinking" MPs take?

To assess the mood of the British people, just read the first line of the first letter in Times. It doesn't matter who the author is… she (as it happens) writes for all of us: "The arrogance of our professional politicians beggars belief".

So what will be the outcome? Well, in the traditional paradigm, we have Position A: Howard "holds the line", the government self-destructs and the voters move obediently over to sweep the Conservatives into power. Only it ain’t going to happen.

New Labour is indeed going to shed voters but they are not going to the Tories – at least, not enough of them. Some will stay at home, some will vote Lib-Dem, some will vote UKIP. Some, if there still was one, would vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party – anything but Tory. The probable effect is that Blair squeaks back into power by default.

By then of course, Blair will have signed up to the constitution and we will be confronting the referendum campaign. The full weight of the establishment – with squillions of taxpayers’ money – will move into "scare mode", raising the spectre of doom and destruction if we vote "no", this of course meaning that we will have to leave the EU.

An impoverished Tory Party, with its morale shot to hell, will squeak from the sidelines but the centre stage will be occupied by UKIP, proclaiming loudly that indeed a "no" vote will mean withdrawal, thus ably doing Blair's work for him – and the BBC will gleefully give it as much publicity as it wants.

Scared witless by the prospect of doom, enough of the British public will hold their noses and vote for the least-worst option. They will cast their "yes" votes, giving Blair the victory he so desperately needs. The game will be over.

The crazy thing is that even "above the line" figures like Jenkins can see it. Everybody else can see it. But Howard can't – he and his crew are so far up their own backsides all they can see is teeth. Theirs is the victory to come; "hold the line" chaps and everything will come right. As for those funny little people jumping up and down in the background – er… the electorate – well, nobody is interested in hearing your views, old boy. We know what we're doing.

So, when they’ve done playing with their "position A", the public will be expected to do their duty – to bend over and adopt "position C". However, there is also "position D". They really don't want to know about that one… but it's coming mate, and they ain't going to like it.

Footnote: have a look at this article on the constitution by Tim Worstall: worth a read click here.

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