The festive season is officially over. Having finally settled back into my routine, I cycled to work early this morning through the grey January drizzle, passing a guard of honour of Christmas trees lying limp on the pavement. Although it left me exhausted and quite literally with more pounds on my waistline than my bank I am truly sad it’s over. This year our house was heaving with people and filled with the sort of geniality I thought possible only in John Lewis adverts. This year we had Americans come to stay.
When the Brits colonised the Americas we imported our language, our disease, our monarchy (briefly) yet we apparently forgot the sprout. As my sister’s boyfriend forked one, enquiring in his southern drawl what ‘this little guy’ was my jaw, primed for a mouthful of turkey, dropped. When he said they were tasty we had to explain that although we had served sprouts, no one is expected to like them.
A similar conversation was had about UKIP. The Americans didn’t take long to ask that question, having glanced at a few newspaper headlines on their tours of village pubs and tearooms. In hindsight I can’t help drawing some comparisons to the sprout incident. Like the shrivelled greens, UKIP are not universally liked but they are present at the table nevertheless. This led to the first of many wine-fuelled family debates, induced by the irresistible desire to explain everything about British society and culture that occurs when in the presence of our trans-Atlantic friends.
My slight defence of UKIP was met with quizzical looks and raised eyebrows: has the family flag-bearer of the far left been hiding a dark, purple and yellow secret? No. I have, and probably alway will vote Green. Although I do like their colours I certainly don’t support UKIP’s policies, but I do support democracy.
That the population feels free to abandon engrained voting patterns and ‘protest’ against mainstream parties says to me that our political state of affairs is in much better shape than some of our European neighbours. UKIP gaining support isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just democracy. And if our democracy has room for the likes of Nigel Farage then it’s a robust one. What really bothers me is the reaction the media, prominent politicians and seemingly half the country have to their presence.
With every gain UKIP makes, the media screams blue murder and the other parties seem to swing further to the right. The Tories are nudging further in UKIP’s direction on immigration, Euroscepticism and welfare in order to ‘win back’ voters. When Labour nearly lost a seat to UKIP last autumn, Miliband announced a hardened stance against immigration. That a party can so dramatically change its views in order to save a seat, to me, is the frightening factor in this debate.
I don’t believe there are many people planning on voting UKIP in the upcoming general election who genuinely support its policies. The party’s appeal is simply its ability to be clear on what it stands for. When explaining UKIP to our American guests I found it easy to list off a range of things they stand for: Euroscepticism, anti-immigration, breastfeeding in a corner… Yet upon being asked what the other British political parties stood for, I drew a blank. I haven’t a clue what they actually bring to the table.
Rather than the two seats UKIP has in the Commons, the real threat is that our political system will dissolve into a puddle of shifting opinions and sound bites. Mainstream politicians seem so busy wandering around factories looking concerned, pausing to offer a well-rehearsed sound bite for the News at 10, that they seem to have forgotten to stand for anything. Any policy they do announce seems entirely dependent on what others are thinking and doing.
British history has favoured those politicians who were divisive – Gladstone, Thatcher, even Tony Blair – because they were driven by principles they rarely compromised. Present day politicians would do well to remember that.
Despite what the front pages imply, I don’t believe we are the prejudiced and frightened nation UKIP is marketing itself at. But at the same time we don’t want sound bites for policies. We simply want someone with a clear, genuine message and currently the only person offering one is Nigel Farage.