April 04, 2006

Is this UKIP's new press officer?

Quite smart of UKIP to hire the Boy-King of the Conservative Party as their new media officer. He has done more for them in publicity in one day than the previous bods had managed in a year.

Let’s see: UKIP has been on the front page of the BBC website, mentioned in the Independent and the Guardian, given a news article by Reuter’s. On top of which, party chairman David Campbell-Bannerman was given right of reply on LBC. And the story is likely to continue.

It all began a couple of days ago, when Campbell-Bannerman warned the Tories that UKIP would use the Freedom of Information Act to get a list of their big donors and lenders. Incidentally, it is remarkable how little benefit the Conservatives have managed to gain from the series of rather unsavoury financial scandals that have hit the government recently.

All Cameron has done was to create an impression of shiftiness with regard to his own pet donors and to show himself to be a managerial politician in his eagerness to discuss with Blair the possibility of state funding for parties.

Memo to Conservatives: the role of the Opposition is to oppose. Do it now, before it is too late.

During an interview on LBC Radio Cameron was asked what he thought of that move. He replied that UKIP was just trying to make mischief, which is undeniably true.

He then, rather unwisely, went on to describe UKIP as a bunch of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists mostly”. It may have got Cameron publicity as the BBC, which has finally found a Conservative leader it likes (i.e. he is not really a Conservative) gleefully pointed out, but it got UKIP much more.

Nigel Farage immediately went into an attack mode, challenging Mr Cameron to prove his accusations and reminding him a little unkindly that UKIP polled 2.7 million votes in the last election. These are votes the Conservatives would very much like. The Boy-King seems to think he can get them and others by insulting everybody in sight.

In response, the Boy-King refused to change his words and added that he did not think a party like UKIP had anything to say to people in the twenty-first century. Extraordinary how many people, usually of the kind, who cannot find their way out of a paper bag, seem to know exactly what is and what is not right for a century that has only just begun.

If he means that opposition to the European Union is somehow unthinkable in the twenty-first century, then the Boy-King shows himself to be remarkably stupid and unobservant. Stupid because no historical development is forever and unobservant because he has not noticed that this particular one has run its course.

Nor is it entirely clear why he thinks that UKIP’s other recently enunciated policies of lower and simpler taxation and choice in health and education, controlled immigration and some solution to the famous East Lothian riddle should not be relevant to the twenty-first century. They are problems that are crying out for solutions and we cannot really afford to wait until the twenty-second century.

So what are we to make of this unwise, not to mention inane, contribution to the political debate by the Boy-King? The most obvious comment to make is that he is a very bad tactician. Having not had much difficulty in his political career until now (a mirror image of Blair in 1997) Cameron has, presumably, not had to think much beyond the immediate statement. Had he done so, he might have realized that the best thing to do with small parties that are nibbling away at your support is to ignore them and hope the media will do the same. The worst thing to do is to give them “the oxygen of publicity”.

Cameron has also opened up himself and his own party to similar accusations – loons, fruitcakes and, even, closet racists tending to be fairly evenly spread across all the parties. Of course, it could be argued that this was yet another carefully calculated attack on the right wing of the Conservative Party, in the hopes that it will finally rebel and go away.

There is a problem here. In the first place, the Boy-King seems unaware of the extent of what he, in his metropolitan hide-out, thinks of as the right. In the second place, another large split in the party and a civil war may not be quite what the doctor ordered for the Tories at the moment.

Above all, Cameron’s statements and most comments on the Conservative Home blog show that the party is still in denial. They are refusing to examine in any detail what UKIP stands for and why it is attracting voters while the Tories continue to be incapable of doing so.

The Boy-King may well know somewhere deep down beneath that fatuous mask of the caring modern conservative that too close an examination of what makes up UKIP and its voters will entail a genuine analysis of what his own party should be based on.

In so far as conservatism means anything, apart from winning elections, it has something to do with small government, individual rights and responsibilities, national independence and constitutional democracy. The Boy-King has conspicuously failed to address any of these issues.

Occasionally he has touched on them briefly, only to explain with a kindly smile that the caring modern conservative did not believe in any of this. But very many conservatives in the country do and they are not in the mood to go on giving him the benefit of the doubt.

These are not the people who ever voted Lib-Dim, the Boy-King’s favourite target. In fact, very few of those will ever vote Tory. These are the people who stayed at home in the last three elections or voted UKIP, Veritas, occasionally even BNP. They did so, not because they are fruitcakes or racists but because they do not think that any of the big parties represents their views or has policies that are, in their opinion, best for the country. David Cameron, the Boy-King of the Conservative Party, insults them at his peril.

Cross-posted from EUReferendum

Posted by Helen Szamuely at April 4, 2006 11:33 AM
Comments

"...small government, individual rights and responsibilities, national independence and constitutional democracy." Add free trade and military strength and law and order and you have got pretty much the whole thing.

Posted by: Lex at April 4, 2006 01:42 PM

Trouble is, Lex, we haven't got it, not with the present Conservative Party. UKIP, on the other hand, is offering some of it (not all). And the Conservatives are refusing to understand that.

Posted by: Helen at April 4, 2006 04:57 PM

Helen (before I even scrolled down, I knew it was you), Perry de Havilland over on Samizdata, has said we will not be able to move forward, or even save our democracy, until the Conservative party is killed.

Thank you, Dave!

My guess, in the next election, votes will have been shed like dandruff off a Guardian reader. The party will have been diminished to a point where something new can happen. (If Blair hasn't created a formal police state that can postpone elections by then, and that is by no means an impossible thought.)

UKIP will have gained seats all over the country where it can afford to run, and so will the BNP.

What next? Maybe Davis, William Hague and some other smart people - definitely not including Oliver Letwin - might meld with UKIP. Certainly, William Hague has given me the impression of laying low but looking hungry. The Conservatives are beyond rescuing, thank heavens.

The vapid, greedy, Jaguar-showroom salesman Boy-King is history, I think, Helen. I hope. Although at first I was shocked that Perry wanted the death of the Conservative Party, I think events over the last two years have proved him absolutely right.

What do you think?

Posted by: Verity at April 10, 2006 07:35 PM

I don't think the Conservative Party will disappear - historically it has always morphed into something new. That will have to happen again. Clearly the party as led by the Boy-King is of no use to anyone. If I want to vote Green or Social-Democrat I shall do so. (Not that I do.) Everybody's favourite scenario is a split in the party and a union with some part of UKIP. Of course, you can usually count on UKIP to mess things up but this might actually happen but not until the Tories start to think a little more carefully about why people vote UKIP (and Veritas) or, even, BNP. It's not difficult. We have been here before in a slightly different form. In the seventies the National Front was a rising force (less so than the BNP or UKIP now but growing in size and support). The large proportion of their voters abandoned them when they realized that there was a mainstream centre-right party they could identify with.

Posted by: Helen at April 11, 2006 03:14 AM

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