The Centre Cannot Hold

The real victories of last night’s by-elections belonged to UKIP. But what might this signal and how will  Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg translate the messages?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

 – ‘The Second Coming,’ W.B. Yeats

After last night’s by-elections, the only party that has cause to celebrate is UKIP. Coming second place in both Rotherham and Middlesbrough, and third in Croydon, is no small achievement for a party that has worked tirelessly along the tributaries of British politics into the mainstream in only a matter of years.

That Labour won in all three seats is no surprise, but as Daniel Hannan has remarked with regards to Rotherham in particuar, ‘I don’t want to hear any Rotherham Labour voters moaning about the arrogance of the political class’, since it was under the governance of that party that Denis MacShane resigned after criminally obtaining public money by deceit, and it was also the party that saw inactivity over child grooming cases and the removal of foster children from UKIP-voting parents [1]. Tribal voting is the stuff of primitive thinking, so of the 9,866 voters in Rotherham who voted Labour, it is probably fair to claim that some did so with only half their wits.

It is also no surprise that the Conservatives should made no progress in these areas. That the Liberal Democrats lost their deposits in Rotherham and Croydon proves beyond doubt that they are the party of insignificance and that they can no longer be used to amplify the voices of discontented voters. Expect them to be annihilated at the next General Election.

What of this? In a previous article, this blog suggested that UKIP’s ascent in Corby was not the result of a mid-term blues protest suggested by the Conservatives, it was the result of long-term disenchantment with useless politicians and their discredited parties. UKIP’s showing in Rotherham and elsewhere would seem to underscore this notion.

Mr Miliband need not break the habit of his leadership; he need do nothing, nor come up with credible policies – the coalition are perfectly adept at blustering incoherence and unravelling without the aid of parliament’s odious Chief Scout. Heaven help the UK when Prime Minister Miliband has to actually make the ‘tough decisions’ he bleats on about. Yet what the Rotherham vote has shown is that UKIP are not just a party of and for the right, they are increasingly a party of and for all political colours. If they can succeed in Labour ‘safe’ seats at the same level as they have in Rotherham, Corby and Middlesbrough, then Mr Miliband may actually have to call an inquiry into thinking about the direction in which he is heading.

And what of Mr Cameron? He is the best publicist of his own stupidity. He continues to alienate the sort of Conservative voters his party has haemorrhaged to UKIP under his leadership, not only because of his dogged determination to make social democrats out of the Tories, but also by refusing to  retract his typically immature remarks that UKIP members are mostly ‘closet racists’. The truth is that ‘centre ground’ politics is not only unpopular, it is inherently damaging to democracy. Yet it is clear that Mr Cameron is just a less uncomfortable looking version of the unhinged Gordon Brown: he is intractably stubborn, to the extent that an easy victory in the 2015 General Election will not be his for the taking. He will sooner listen to the likes of Matthew D’Ancona, who wrote in a wildly inaccurate and faintly bizarre recent article:

…the very worst thing Cameron could do now is to rip up his centre-ground strategy and hurtle off to the Right in search of these voters. Not many of them would come back. And many more centrist waverers would be lost in the process. [2]

Though this is precisely what Mr Cameron would want to hear – and certainly the only advice he is likely to listen to – it is at the cost of his own party and democracy. So Mr Cameron’s likeness to Mr Brown is evidenced once again: when a person (let alone a politician) cannot be seen to fight for their own survival, then it rings as defective. By heading off in the right direction, Mr Cameron could outflank UKIP’s ever growing number and bring under his wing the working class vote that UKIP appeals to: immigration, crime, withdrawal from the EU. Since the moribund Lib Dems have had their life support terminated, what consideration need Mr Cameron give to them? Yet he persists in targeting none of these matters, which appeal to all voters. The consequence is a further disenfranchised electorate and the collapse of his vote. As Yeats wrote:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

UKIP may yet have to win parliamentary seats, but it signals the direction in which any successful party or thinking person should be heading: a politics of consent, of decisiveness, of the nation state. Under their current leaders, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are interested in ideology, not practicality. Ideology is cheap and easy, since it exists in the mind. Practicality and workable policies are much more credible victories, but intellectually beyond the reach of those on parliament’s front benches today.

© thepanopticonblog, 2012

Notes

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