We Tories look at him – with his pint and cigar and sense of humour – and we instinctively recognise someone who is fundamentally indistinguishable from us. He’s a blooming Conservative, for heaven’s sake; and yet he’s in our constituencies, wooing our audiences, nicking our votes, and threatening to put our councillors out of office. We feel the panic of a man confronted by his Doppelgänger. Omigaaaad, we say to ourselves: they’re stealing our schtick! And we are tempted to do a Nicolas Cage – to overreact, to freak out, to denounce them all as frauds or worse. I think there may have been a few ill-advised insults flying around in the past couple of days.
Well, I would humbly submit that there are better ways of tackling the Ukip problem, if indeed it is really a problem at all. The rise of Farage and Ukip tells us some interesting and important things about what the electorate wants – and it is by no means bad news for the Conservatives. It tells us that the voters are fed up with over-regulation of all kinds, and especially from Brussels. Well, who is going to offer a referendum on the EU? Only the Conservatives – and the trouble with voting Ukip is that it is likely to produce the exact opposite: another Labour government and another five years of spineless and unexamined servitude to the EU.
Or take the Human Rights Act, and yesterday’s astonishing story about a fellow who has been here illegally since 2000, and has just tried to persuade a court that he may not be returned to Iraq – in spite of repeated convictions for drug dealing – because he has tattoos. These tattoos apparently include one of a naked lady, of a kind that may allegedly cause offence in a Muslim country.
As it happens, there is no evidence whatever of anyone being persecuted in Iraq because of his tattoos – even in the Islamist chaos that has followed the removal of Saddam. Why shouldn’t he wear a T-shirt? Why can’t he get the tattoo changed to look like a porpoise or something inoffensive? Why are British courts sitting through this kind of drivel? Why are British taxpayers paying hundreds of millions for the whole carry-on? You read that kind of story, and you can see exactly why people are tempted to go for Ukip – just to give the whole cosy and complacent political establishment a kick in the pants.
It is tempting, but there is only one party that has the remotest chance of getting a grip on this sort of politically correct nonsense, and that is the Conservatives. If you want the party that finally got a grip on mass illegal immigration – after Labour deliberately let the brakes off – it is the Tories. If you want to cut the burdens on small business, it is only the Tories who have a hope of governing and actually doing something about the problem.
Rather than bashing Ukip, I reckon Tories should be comforted by their rise – because the real story is surely that these voters are not turning to the one party that is meant to be providing the official opposition. The rise of Ukip confirms a) that a Tory approach is broadly popular and b) that in the middle of a parliament, after long years of recession, and with growth more or less flat, the Labour Party is going precisely nowhere.
Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were the people who advised Gordon Brown most intimately throughout his profligate reign. It was they who said they had taken Britain “beyond boom and bust” and then produced a spectacular bust.
They have absolutely nothing to say or to offer except to take the Labour Party far to the Left of where it was even under Gordon Brown. Their lead has been cut to single figures in the past few weeks, and if – as I strongly suspect – the economy starts to recover well next year (and perhaps as early as this summer), then that lead will be obliterated.
Now is not the time to do a Nicolas Cage and freak out at our Doppelgängers, or to slag them off just for appearing to think, in large part, what many Conservatives think. Now is the time to keep calm and carry on being Conservative.