Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The brooding elephant

At least the Independent picked up the story about the effect the UKIP/Veritas had on the general election results.

With Booker in the Sunday Telegraph (plus a letter), a mention in The Business and letters today in the Daily Telegraph and The Times, this means that the point has had a fair degree of coverage, although nothing in comparison to the torrent of political comment about the election in general.

To that extent, the blindness of the mainstream political commentators is really is quite remarkable, their inability to see that brooding elephant in the room, and to understand the consequences. But, I suppose, having ignored the issue of "Europe" throughout the election (together with most of the politicos), one can hardly expect these same people to confront their own failures in their post-election analyses.

The one exception though, in today's Telegraph, is Mark Steyn who, under the opaque title of "Stealth taxes are the least of people's worries" does address the issue of the "UKIP effect".

He recalls how, on election day, he found himself in Solihull - "Conservative since the dawn of time" – which, for the first time in the constituency's history, voted other than Conservative. They are now represented by a Liberal Democrat.

Writes Steyn, "If it were three in the morning on an election night special, I'd say sternly: 'Until they can win seats like Solihull, the Conservatives will never be in government again', and leave it at that. Then I'd cross over to the returning officer in Hawick or Blaenau Gwent, and never give the place another thought."

Instead, he brooded over the result and its broader significance, discovering as indeed we did on this Blog that the Lib Dems won by 279 votes while the UKIP candidate got 990.

He then finds that, in Warwick and Leamington, Labour won by 306 votes; the UKIP bloke got 921. By some analyses, he adds, the UKIP vote cost the Tories 25 seats. Without them, the Lib Dems would have won merely an extra seven seats and the Labour majority would have been down to 34.

There may be some argument about the arithmetic and the precise extent of the "UKIP effect" but it would be facile to pretend that it does not exist. Steyn (amongst others) sees it in terms of the Right being split on the "Europe" issue.

With the Left also split, which split, he asks - the Left's or the Right's - is likely to be patched up by the next election? He concludes that, by 2009, Iraq will be a long way in the past and Gordon Brown's Labour Party will win back a lot of those anti-war votes. But, he asserts:

…Europe, like the poor, is always with us - and, whatever befalls the constitution and the euro, there's no reason to believe, after 15 years of failing to do so, that the Tories will suddenly find a form of words both the Clarkeite and sceptic wings of the party will support convincingly. And, if they go into another national election determined to avoid the subject, those 900 UKIP votes up and down the map will do their work yet again. Not to mention the BNP vote, which is a further complicating factor.
There his analysis goes a little wonky and tends towards the superficial. As we pointed out in our analysis, on its performance over the last three elections, we won't be seeing "those 900 UKIP voters" but more commonly constituency votes in the 1-2,000 range.

However, the point made that the splits on the Left may have healed is a good one (although there may be other factors to take the place of Iraq, etc). If this is added to effect of the potentially increasing UKIP vote anf the unknown (but possibly harmful) effect of there being Euro elections and a general election at the same time, the Conservatives could be in real trouble.

For sure, this is crystal ball gazing about events in four years time, based on assumptions which themselves are far from unequivocal. Whichever way you cut it, though, there is potentially a political phenomenon here of some importance. It could, conceivably, deny the Conservatives power at the next election.

Dispute this if you will. Debate it by all means, but it does not seem to me safe to ignore it. But then, "denial" has been the characteristic of the MSM and the political élites when it comes to "Europe". Our message is, "ignore it at your peril". That brooding elephant in the room could well trample you to death.

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