FLC123, Vote UKIP for a Better Tory Government, Sean Gabb, 1st June 2004

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Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 123
1st June 2004

Vote UKIP for a Better Tory Government
by Sean Gabb

That Michael Howard is the best Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher is an undeniable if also unflattering proposition. That this country would become a better place were to be become Prime Minister is more arguable. However, I believe that it would; and so, were there to be a general election this 10th June, I should almost certainly vote Conservative. But the next general election is at least several months away. Next week, we shall be sending representatives not to sit in our Parliament but in the European Parliament. And so I shall, next week, vote for the United Kingdom Independence Party.

My reason is that, while I admire him, I do not trust Mr Howard to do in office all that is needed. It is possible to see in the past six months the beginning of a great reaction that will so far as possible undo great evils. It is also possible to see those months as a return to the politics of the Quisling Right.

I have written at length elsewhere about the Quisling Right. Here, I will simply define the term as the tendency of Conservative politicians to imply more than they promise, and to seem to promise less than really is promised—and, once elected to office, to do far less than was promised. Is this now happening? If we look behind the image that Mr Howard projects, is there the same lack of substance? Perhaps there is.

Some years ago, I wrote that, to be successful, a party needs a mission. This legitimises the often ruthless methods used to keep the party together. It allows otherwise fatal differences of personality and emphasis to be reconciled. It means that a clear distinction can be drawn between matters that can and matters that cannot be compromised. It gives activists a reason to go out knocking on doors and more passive supporters to continue voting during times of disappointment. The Labour Mission of the 1940s was to build Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land. The Conservative mission of the 1980s was to smash the unions and generally reform economic management. The Conservative mission now must be to withdraw the country from the European Union, and perhaps to begin the work of reforming dying and replacing dead institutions. This is not a mission the Conservatives have themselves defined. It has been given them by events. If they take it up, they will win as they did after 1974. If they take it up only to drop it again after a successful election, they will be destroyed.

Are the Conservatives intelligent to understand the mission that events have shaped for them? I hope that they are, and Christina Speight believes that they are. Her repeated line is that the Conservatives do not need to alienate support by promising to leave the European Union. It is enough for them to reject the European Constitution. Hardly anyone would see this rejection as unreasonable; and if it is attended by our somehow leaving the European Union, there would be limited grounds for objecting. But there is much to separate hope and belief. Christina may be right—or she may be projecting her own clear apprehension of what needs to be done onto men who would sell their own mothers into whoredom just to sit again in those shiny black cars surrounded by the red boxes of office.

I have spent too much of my life looking at Conservative politicians to think well either of their morality or their intelligence. I hope that this time it is different. But I look at the public blandness of their faces and hear their convoluted answers to common questions, and I can easily imagine their private complacency. At last, they have acquired a leader as nearly first rate as can be imagined in our current politics, and bleeding to death in front of them—and from self-inflicted wounds—is a Prime Minister who could once depress all their hopes with a curl of his lip. I can almost see them rubbing their hands and waiting for the votes to roll in.

That is why the European elections next week are so important. We shall not be electing a government, nor sending representatives to a body that is of any real significance. We shall instead be taking part in an extended opinion poll. We need Labour to lose, but we also need the Conservatives not to win. The ideal result must be for Labour to be put on firm notice of dismissal, but for the Conservatives to remain on probation. No doubt must be left in their minds that they must try harder.

That is the value of UKIP. It contains many patriots. I am on terms of personal friendship with several of its candidates. But this is not a party that I could ever wish to see with a solid presence in the House of Commons. Its unity is too fragile, many of its leading personnel so privately compromised. It is too infiltrated and too controlled by the security services. It must not be seen as a party of government. But it is a way of making clear to the political establishment of this country that withdrawal from the European Union is not the obsession of a minority. The function of small parties in our system is to force the larger parties to shift position. The Commonwealth Party went nowhere after 1943—few today even know about it. But its bye-election successes brought a general leftward shift in British politics. That is what we must hope of a UKIP success next week.

In a speech made earlier today in Southampton, Mr Howard attacked UKIP with his usual bluntness. I would not read too much into this speech. He is competing for votes, and he cannot be sure that the UKIP message really is popular. But a large UKIP vote next week will reveal the true nature of his leadership. His response might be to start speculating on the circumstances in which he would take us out of the European Union—or he might stand by in silent relief as Downing Street sends in the security services to complete the disruption begun after the 1999 election. Clear answers are seldom to be found in British politics. Much against his will, Mr Howard—and the Conservative Party as a whole—may be about to give one.

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