EASTLEIGH ELECTION: Why UKip will smooth the way towards a Borisonian Britain

Commenting on the Eastleigh result, in a classic outburst of slightly daft bombast, Nigel Farage said last night, “If the Conservatives hadn’t split our vote we would have won.” Still, it acted as a smokescreen (albeit dotty) to hide the reality of what I wrote earlier in the week: had Farage himself stood, UKip would very probably have its first UK seat this morning.

In truth, there are four real lessons in this result. First, the turnout was only just over half. Fair enough, it was a by-election – but it was a heavily media-reported one, a by-election created by the previous MP committing a criminal offence, and an obvious chance for disgruntled people to clobber both the Coalition Parties at once. That half of those allowed to vote didn’t bother to turn up shows once again the astonishing level of disengagement from politics in 2013 Britain.

The final-result stats fully support this conclusion. The two ‘big’ UK Parties, Tory and Labour, attracted the support of just 1 in 6 of those allowed to vote. LibDem winner Michael Thornton sees himself elected to Parliament with the support of one in five….about average these days. Despite a reasonably well-known candidate in the shape of comic author John O’Farrell, a minute 1 in 20 turned up to support him. Once again, Labour is seen as having little or no appeal in mainstream southern England.

Second, David Cameron’s position as Leader is now very precarious indeed, teeing up Boris Johnson nicely for a crack at the job possibly before (but probably after) the 2015 General Election. The Slog opined last Tuesday:

‘….you have to ask – as a Tory – whether squeaking in on a recount would be enough to relieve the besieged leader David Cameron. To be honest, whether you were a Tory or a Sutchist, the answer is pretty obviously “No”….. losing it would be a disaster for David Cameron.’

Well, he lost….to both the LibDems and UKip. So it is whatever comes above a disaster – a catastrophe from the Camerlot pov. And yet, the idea of UKip knackering the Tory vote alone is shown to be a myth: The LibDem vote fell by 14.5%, the Conservative one by 14%. UKip got the vast majority of the protest votes on offer – three times more than Labour. Above all, the result says that those people still with the energy left to vote don’t feel close to any mainstream Party. Farage was on much safer ground when he remarked, “What happened here in Eastleigh was not a freak result. Something is changing. People are sick and tired of having three social democrat parties that are frankly indistinguishable from each other”.

He’s right, but of course he is still shown to be at the helm of a Party that lacks credibility as a real alternative.

Third, this isn’t going to do Ed Miliband any favours. While the Labour vote held up, the Party has become irrelevant to Eastleigh voters – a place very far indeed from being Tory shires heartland territory. I doubt very much if it will affect Ed’s authority (of which he has very little anyway in real terms) but for the leadership as a whole, an inability to attract support when the Coalition is in deep doo-doo represents a serious long-term problem.

But I save the most important extrapolation until last, and it goes like this: for the foreseeable future, Government by one Party in the United Kingdom is virtually impossible. It looks as if we are heading into an era of serial coalition government.

I think there are a number of reasons for this. The most obvious one is that none of the four Parties discussed above are anywhere near either leading or reflecting the feelings of Middle Britain. The 35% or so who used to vote but don’t any more hold the key to where the UK might be going on almost every level. The UKip voter in Eastleigh is older, and less than committed to Farage’s vision, such as it is. It is going to take a new and charismatically led organisation to bring in the young en masse, and encourage the rest to re-engage. The damage done last time around by the false dawn of Nick Clegg is, it seems to me, far more profound that most observers realise or accept.

But in some ways, Britain’s divided electorate is merely the continuation of a trend we have been witnessing for several years now. The Greek and Italian elections have produced a standoff, and the US Presidential contests show time and again how divided and confused the American voter is. The Dutch political landscape is lurching to the Right, and pushing hitherto leprous people into colaitions. France didn’t elect a Socialist President in Hollande really, it unelected Nicolas Sarkozy; there too, there is a deep confusion over what’s required in the way of economic ‘reform’, and a classic Gallic distrust of austerity.

Only the Germans have a leader who looks unbeatable, and that of itself is both worrying and quickly understandable: she seems to be running the EU, and her public likes that…plus the Germans have been smart enough to diversify their trade away towards Asia, and so few are feeling the pinch in the Bundesrepublik. With all the other EU members of any weight hopelessly divided ( the possible exception being Spain) German hegemony now looks assured for some years to come. The big question is how Hans and Helga will react when it comes time for Berlin to pay the bill.

This widespread political apathy and confusion reflect (to me at any rate) the obvious cultural interregnum in which the West now finds itself. The old politics look dreadfully stale, disgustingly cynical, and fundamentally dishonest. The socialist model has been found out, and the neocon one is in the process of killing itself. People are bombarded with conflicting information about almost everything from climate change to the econo-fiscal outlook. Above all, nobody in the political, governmental, media or banking elites shows the slightest inclination to do anything beyond clinging on to what they’ve got by all means fair and foul.

Over time, this must of course become a self-fuelling process until something or somebody comes along to give citizens in the West a more realistically inspiring vision of how to move into a better future. Part of that (obviously) will involve a clearer consensus on what is meant by ‘better’.

At the risk of becoming boring on this subject, looking at the British context, the politician in by far the best position to benefit from this is Boris Johnson. A massive purge of the Camerlot camp alongside a lurch to the Right under his leadership would get him support among the old, the young, the UKippers, and the traditional working-to-middle-class Conservative voter. Given his carefully cultivated image of being the plain-speaking chap close to the national pulse, Johnson is also building an image of dynamic renewal through business investment….a process against which he brooks no opposition, and throughout which he actively stifles debate.

The reality of BoJo is rather different to the bluff, straight persona he projects. Under a Johnson-led government, British citizens of every age and social class would see a rapid erosion of their net worth, employment rights, incomes, social mobility, and access to real justice. Johnson is for Murdoch, for bankers, for denial, for cover-up, for media spin and corrupt officialdom: in fact, for economic success whatever the price…and for the gathering of as much power as possible by Boris Johnson.

Pretty much everything I predicted about the bloke has come to pass. The real legacy being left for all of us by UKip’s ability to harass the Government without actually achieving anything much is the likely installation of an anti-libertarian Right wing regime answerable only to (and fully supported by) multinational business. I suspect that, not too far below the surface, this would suit Nigel Farage down to the ground.