May 8, 2013 1 Comment
I read a recent report that suggested David Cameron was going to scrap the leaders’ debates in 2015. I was not over keen on these myself, not least because it made our General Election far too presidential for my liking. However, Cameron appears to be running scared of the telegenic charms of Nigel Farrage.
If I was Ed Miliband I would be tempted to offer Farrage a debate; the UKIP manifesto seems as far removed as anything I can immediately think of from where the Labour Party should be that such a debate should an easy victory for the rational debating skills of Ed. A debate would highlight the chasm between UKIP and Labour and give voters the choices they so desperately seek.
UKIP pose a number of problems for Cameron, all self-inflicted. The Tories have never resolved where they want to be on Europe, having fudged the issue since the days of Maggie. Splits have been predicted before, and whilst the party has stayed more or less united, its support has certainly fractured. This may only be a between General Elections problem, but as Labour found out the weakening of the activist base caused by poor showings in local elections eventually catches up with you.
UKIP’s mantra in the recent elections was largely focussed on Europe and immigration, their manifesto resembling a wish-list from the Daily Mail editorial team. The county councils have no power to affect policy in either of these areas, not that this was an electoral obstacle. A quarter of those who voted were so intent on expressing their displeasure that it seemingly mattered not that those whom they chose to support will be powerless to affect change in these areas. However, if Tory HQ is panicked into lurching to the Right then they will see this as job done; even better if Labour feel obliged to compromise too.
Despite my deep disapproval of much that UKIP stand for I cannot help but admire their leader. He surely must be the most popular party leader in the country, and he so towers above everyone in his own party that few could name a second UKIP member. He seemingly conjures positive headlines out of the air at the moment and he will hope that the wave of popularity he is riding carries him and his party for the next twenty-four months.
My view, at the moment, is that UKIP will do even better next year. The EU elections have been fertile territory for UKIP in recent years, and this can only get better in 2014. I cannot see anything but more pain for the Tories for the next thirteen months (the 2014 elections will be held in June). However, when it comes to electing a Government, especially under an electoral system so loaded in favour of the big two parties, I would expect that those sit-at-home and rebelling Tory supporters to return in sufficient numbers to see off any UKIP challenge in 2015. Whether this is enough to stay in Government only time will tell; Cameron will take solace from the fact that Labour’s improved performance last week was some way short of sensational.
In truth, some Labour supporters are also worried about a lack of clear purpose or direction. With two years still to the big test I cannot see how Miliband can do anything but be cautious about announcing policy. However, he could state loud and clear what he does not believe in, and do that by waiving the UKIP manifesto and saying “not this”.