Political Promise

Calm Down Nigel, It’s Only a By-Election

In James Bailey on March 9, 2011 at 10:01 am

In the aftermath of the Barnsley Central by-election last week, Nigel Farage has made some ridiculous statements. James Bailey asks are UKIP really the Main Voice of the Opposition now?

No, he hasn’t been taking lessons from W., but nevertheless UKIP leader Nigel Farage made the extraordinary claim in recent days that not winning an election did, in fact, count as a win. And how, exactly, does that work?

Farage was speaking after the recent Barnsley by-election. And yes, the result saw UKIP make a comfortable second place over the Conservatives. But to hear the way Farage – gushing more than a broken Thames Barrier – sold it, you could be forgiven for thinking that UKIP were winning the whole world.

He declared that the Liberal Democrats are no longer the main voice of opposition in British politics. UKIP is. Well, fair enough. In this election, the results clearly proved that to be true. But therein lays the rub – in this election. One by-election must be considered as a unique event, and not necessarily a reflection of the entirety of public opinion. Farage appears to have forgotten this. Assuming that the most recent election will be repeated all around the country, let’s cast our minds back to Oldham East. Where are the Main Voice of Opposition? Languishing in fourth with 5.8%. Were the Liberal Democrats trumpeting it as a victory? Of course they were not, for they understood that a second place was a second place. In any case, even if UKIP are celebrating the highest placing they have ever achieved in a Westminster election, their jubilation is over the fact that they cannot win a seat. “You are first, or you are nothing.” Nobody gets a prize for finishing second.

“I love Europe,” Nigel shouted at UKIP’s recent conference, seeming to forget that two years ago he had described Belgium as a ‘non-country’ and that its people had ‘all the charisma of a damp rag’. Are those the words of a European lover? Or, more pertinently, a politician that can be taken seriously? Such ad hominem attacks are distasteful even in the occasionally cut-throat and dirty world of politics. And lest we forget, what happened to the Dear Leader in his own election campaign of last year? Beaten by Flipper the Dolphin. To unseat the Liberal Democrats as the third largest party is a grand and lofty goal. But such grandstanding by Farage is not the way to go about it. Unless UKIP prove they have a credible platform, a credible base of support and – most crucially – a credible leader, they will remain in exactly the position they find themselves in now – claiming a loss as a victory, and displaying extreme arrogance in declaring themselves winners when under all known rules and regulations, they lost. Such an untruthful declamation in no way endears them to serious parties, or serious voters. It used to be the case that parties would wait until they were in government to deceive the electorate. Nigel Farage, in that respect, is a breath of fresh air.

Yet ironically, UKIP will have gotten what they wanted. Farage’s outrageous statement may not have gained them a seat, but it did give them masses of new and free exposure. For a while they will ride high on the self-acclaim and artificially inflated self-importance. But inevitably the fall from euphoria will come, and there will be questions to be asked about why such a ‘success’ is still a failure, about why they didn’t quite make it, about why the Main Voice of Opposition is impotent and invisible in the forum of the nation. There is, of course, a simple answer to this: UKIP do not sufficiently appeal to voters. Sometimes the truth really is as simple as that.

So yes, UKIP are a proper political party, albeit a xenophobic, out-of-touch, and confused one. But until their leader, the supposedly shining example of all that is right about their credos and beliefs, is elected to Parliament, until they begin to have representation at the national level, hell, until they can get even five percent in a general election, they will fail to be taken seriously. And without that, they are doomed to the political graveyard for a good while yet.

They don’t even have a party colour. In memory of Kilroy, I’d suggest Orange.

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