Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The wilderness is getting rather crowded

Even after a few days closeted in the warm embrace of the EU parliament in Brussels - where each of the MEPs' offices have beds and so much is provided under the one roof that you could live out your life in the building and never again feel the sun on your skin – the political news from the UK seems unreal.

A few days more and the mind-numbingly dull machinations of the "toy" parliament begin to look interesting and, if you try hard enough, you can even convince yourself that they are important.

I can thus imagine how British politics must look to the average American, to whom Washington is a strange, far-off country, populated by a malign species of aliens, split into warring tribes called the Democrats and Republicans.

A lot of Americans are aware of Tony Blair, because it is he who stood by the United States in the dark hours following 9/11 and sent "his" troops into bat alongside GW, when the fateful decision was made to depose Saddam Hussein. But, I bet, very few indeed are aware that he is leader of the Labour Party or that the nearest political equivalent to his party in America is the Democrats.

Most politically-aware Americans (which is a lot) will be aware of the term "conservatives" and a smaller number might be aware that, in the UK there is a political grouping called the Conservative Party. The very few that even think about it, might briefly associate that party with conservativism and leave it at that. David Cameron, aka the Boy King, will be completely unknown to all but a handful.

It is useful nevertheless, to try and explain one's own predicament though the imagined eyes of a foreigner – and American eyes are as good as any.

Thus we can describe the political scene in Britain as been dominated by a party which calls itself New Labour, which, by tradition is akin to the Democrats - representing as it does the working man – but has long since ceased to represent anything other than itself and, if anything, is closer to Republican values in some respects.

On the other hand, we have a Conservative Party which is no longer conservative and, in its attempts to get itself re-elected, is adopting the clothes of the left wing – becoming closer in spirit to the Democrats, more so even than New Labour. This, incidentally, was the party of Margaret Thatcher, who would be turning in her grave if she was dead. Fortunately, she is not, but that is her only fortune. The party she sought to re-create has been destroyed.

For most Americans, whom we are told are so stupid that they can only count to two, and then only with a calculator (although the ultimate insult is much better – I use it in respect of the old enemy – state vets. How do you pick one out in a crowd? Ask everyone to count to eleven. The vet is the man who takes his socks off.) we have to stop at two political parties.

But for the political sophisticates – i.e., those who can handle numbers larger than two – we can reveal that there are in fact three "main" parties, the third being what is laughingly called the Liberal Democrats.

The philosophy of his party is relatively easily understood if you appreciate that it is neither liberal nor democrat, and practices an advanced form of poliitcal schizophrenia. When it campaigns at a local level, it is all things to all men (and women), telling electors anything they want to hear. But, at national level, it is unashamedly Democrat, i.e., not democratic, and thus horribly left-wing.

Thus it is in the UK that we have three main parties, all of which are left-wing. And, on the issue which is of such interest to so many of us – our continued membership of the European Union - all three of those parties are in favour.

With that background, readers not familiar with the UK political scene – which includes most citizens of the UK – are now better equipped to understand Mr Simon Heffer's rant in today's Daily Telegraph.

As a "rabid" right-wing columnist, he reveals a feature of the British political scene that seems to be catching the three main political parties completely by surprise. What is happening is that many people – we call them voters – are so disillusioned with the current setup that they are saying "a pox on all your parties", and walking away.

This, of course, is not supposed to happen. Given a choice of three, we are supposed to pick one. Instead, with these parties all occupying various positions on the left, other, minority parties are moving in to fill the vacuum. Pre-eminent amongst these is the UK Independent Party which, as Heffer points out, is beginning to Hoover up the votes of the disaffected right wing.

In so doing, it is undoubtedly aided by its new leader, Nigel Farage, who Heffer tells us is, "highly articulate, plain spoken, experienced, attracting much media attention and highly politically motivated". Fortunately for UKIP, very few know - or care - that Farage is also an unprincipled, self-centred, intellectually challenged shit. Most of those who do have left (or are leaving) the party.

But, for those who would not now vote for UKIP even if hell froze over, there are other options, not least the British National Party. The problem here is that, although it is branded "extreme right-wing", it is in fact a far-left party. And while UKIP is capturing the disaffected right, BNP is Hoovering up votes from the disaffected old Labour left. In the heady days of the Thatcher revolution, these were the people - the "White van man" - who gravitated to the Conservatives and gave them 18 years of power.

Perversely, while the leaders of the main parties would all like to claim the mantle of Thatcher, the recipient of her now disillusioned support is Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP. Effectively, he is the true heir of Thatcherism.

How you see it, though, depends on how close you are to which particular coal face. In the Conservative Party, there is a diminishing rump which believes that the Boy King is the New Messiah who will lead their left-facing party to the promised land. They are happy to see the unreformed right-wingers desert the ship - heedless of the fact that these comprise the core vote of the party - crowing that they are simply consigning themselves to the political wilderness.

But, as Heffer writes, "the wilderness is getting is getting rather crowded". And there we will stay until we have a true conservative party again.


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