Monday, February 20, 2006

Which way is forward?

To the many who are disillusioned with the major political parties and are looking for a way forward, the affairs of the minor political parties are perhaps of greater interest to us than they are to the bulk of the population.

To that small band, that the BBC's Westminster Hour yesterday wheeled on Nigel Farage was of some significance. Described as "one of UKIP's key strategists and an MEP", Farage proceeded to tell us that the UK Independence Party was in the process of reinventing itself as a right of centre party.

Farage's "cunning plan", it seems, is to Hoover up the votes of the five million disaffected Tories who are left high and dry by the Boy King's lurch to the left, by taking on a range of domestic policies that would appeal to the disfranchised Thatcherite tendency.

The underlying thinking is quite sound, as UKIP has long laboured under the handicap of being a single-issue party, which has limited appeal to the vast tranche of voters who are more concerned with domestic matters when it comes to elections. Broadening the policy base ostensibly gives UKIP a chance to speak on a wider canvas.

Farage's move may be timely as the EU issue is likely to have even less impact in the coming campaigns than it has in previous elections. Not only is the single currency no longer and issue, neither is there the immediate spectre of the EU constitution being adopted. Furthermore, as keen EU-watchers will have noticed – activity on the Brussels front is at an all-time low, with the Union showing every sign of having lost its way.

Perversely, while UKIP is dedicated to removing Britain from EU membership, its electoral success depends on there being a high level of public concern over "Europe". In effect, UKIP needs an active, vibrant European Union and with EU issues sliding down the political agenda, the current level of anti-EU sentiment is not enough to sustain a growing political movement.

In adopting a broader canvas, however, nothing Farage said on the BBC programme indicated that he had perceived, much less understood that the political tectonic plates are moving, not least – in the context of the "Cartoon Wars" - the public concern over the growth of political Islam in this country and abroad.

In fact, having spent much of its recent history expending its energies on convincing the public and the media that it is a "non-racist party", UKIP now appears to find itself incapable of offering a coherent line on the Islamic question, and has opted for a spectator role, leaving the field to the British National Party.

However, there are even greater forces at work which may serve to bury UKIP's ambitions. Looming over us is the unresolved Iranian nuclear question and there remains a prospect that, some time shortly after the Israeli general election on 28 March, a military strike will be launched against Iranian nuclear research and production facilities.

Should that happen there is equally the prospect that the Gulf will be closed down, with a huge and damaging interruption to oil production, on the scale of that experience in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War.

Interestingly, one of the most seriously affected casualties of any such interruption would be Japan, which is Iran's biggest oil customer. And, with Japan being the biggest creditor of the United States, the catastrophic effect of an oil blockade could have a major impact on the dollar, precipitating a global currency crisis.

While the dollar economy is so huge that it would most likely weather the storm - albeit sustaining considerable damage – the knock-on effect would be to trigger the first currency shock to the ailing euro, the impact of which could be so great as to demolish the single currency completely.

If the European Union runs to form, it will display its usual inability to handle a major international crisis and we could see a massive acceleration of the slow fragmentation that is already occurring, triggering a cascade effect which could precipitate the collapse of the Union.

Faced with such momentous events, one can imagine that UKIP will be swept aside as people, looking for reassurance and action, turn to their traditional parties for salvation. But, if the economic effects of any crisis are as severe as some pundits are suggesting, this could turn populations against their own governments and, in a re-run of the 30s depression, support for extreme minority parties could grow. Again an obvious beneficiary could be the BNP.

Short of this doomsday scenario, the majority of economic pundits seem to be suggesting an economic downturn and you do not have to be an economist to know that Gordon Brown's spending spree is running into the sand. Britain, along with the rest of the world, is facing lean times and, on top of that, the Islam question is not going to go away.

All of that seem to make UKIP even more of an irrelevance than it is already, which does not seem to offer much hope for the future, when other parties remain so unattractive. That is the conundrum facing contemporary political activists. We all looking for direction, but which way is forward?


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