‘A conduit for pissed-off protest voters.’ ‘Farage’s Falange.’ ‘Fascists in blazers.’ These are some of the things friends have said about Ukip recently and I don’t want to embarrass them by naming names, for the last thing I’d wish on a mate is the queasy feeling I had this morning after a particularly bizarre anxiety dream. I dreamt that I’d agreed to let a (male) autograph hunter photograph my penis and that, rather than keep it to himself — as I’d trusted him to do — he sold it to all the newspapers.
No, I don’t understand the dream either. But still less do I understand those criticisms of Ukip, which only make any sense if a) you’ve never troubled to acquaint yourself with Ukip’s policies or b) you’re stuck in a bubble marked 2009 and haven’t twigged how radically the world has shifted since.
Let me tell you about my own political journey and we can compare notes. Up till recently, like a lot of ‘natural conservatives’, I’ve held dual political nationality: my heart with Ukip, my head with the Tories. This seemed to me the pragmatic position and gelled with what I’d been advised shortly after the general election by one of the Conservative party’s senior dark arts operatives.
‘Look, I know you hate what Dave is doing and you may be right,’ he said. ‘But you’ve got to realise there’s no point in going elsewhere, we’re your only hope. So instead of knocking us all the time, why not encourage us when we do things you like — and help trigger the right-wing counter-revolution?’
Sometimes I remembered to do this. I went to Owen Paterson’s constituency to explain to his local donors (who are so right-wing they thought I was a pinko) that here, at least, was an MP more than deserving of their loyalty. I also wrote occasional blogposts congratulating the Conservatives when they managed to do something vaguely conservative.
But such opportunities didn’t present themselves very often. Scarcely at all, in fact. There are only so many blogposts you can write saying how marvellous you think Michael Gove is or what high hopes you have for the new energy minister. Especially when, as it turns out shortly afterwards, that the new energy minister has been emasculated by his potato-faced departmental head.
Every Ukip-er can probably describe his Damascene moment. For some it goes right back to Cast Iron Dave’s broken promise; for others, it might be HS2 or the Tories’ dismal apologiae for the Mid-Staffordshire hospital report. In my case, it was energy.
When I stood down as the independent, anti-wind-farm candidate in the Corby by-election, it was on the understanding that my work was done. The Tories, having parachuted the no-nonsense, wind-sceptic John Hayes into the Department of Energy and Climate Change, were ready to row back from the disastrous policies written for them by an earlier environment minister, one Ed Miliband. Or it so seemed.
Then nothing. Or nearly nothing. There was a bit of Toryish tinkering here and there: noises about wind farms in the wrong place (and the right place would be where, exactly?), a mooted reduction in renewables subsidies (yeah right: they’re about to be increased massively), vague nods towards the possibility of thinking about maybe sometime exploiting the 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas beneath Blackpool alone.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the destruction of the British landscape with bat-chomping eco-crucifixes has continued apace; and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has just blown £50 million of our money to help some fund called Greencoat buy six new wind farms. Our shale miracle remains a distant mirage. Energy prices continue to rise, our economy continues to tank, old people continue to shiver and die in fuel poverty while ‘global warming’ has remained stubbornly on hold for the past 16 years.
This is the point where some Cameroon chips in: ‘But you’ve got to understand, we’re in coalition with the Lib Dems. If we’d won the election outright it would have been different.’ Oh, shurrup, no it wouldn’t. Many of the politicians who’ve been pushing for the most extreme green energy policies — among them Lord Deben, Tim Yeo, Oliver Letwin and Greg Barker — are Conservatives. Our insane energy policies are no unhappy accident: they’re part of the Conservative plan.
But not the Ukip plan. Have a look at the manifesto sometime. You’ll be amazed. It’s like your wish list of all the things you’d like to see happen to Britain but never dared imagine possible. Not extremist stuff: just policies which honestly reflect the dire state the country is in and seriously, reasonably, decently attempt to address it.
So Ukip’s spending budget — more on defence, police, prisons and infrastructure — hasn’t been properly costed yet. Well, of course not. Nor has George Osborne’s. And anyway, it’s beside the point. Ukip will have plenty of time in the coming months to tinker with the detail. What matters far more is its stated direction of travel: patriotic, fiscally conservative, socially libertarian, tougher on crime, stricter on immigration — the kind of stuff many if not most voters want but have been denied by the Hobson’s choice of LibLabCon.
Those policies have been in place since 2010, so it’s not as if Ukip has suddenly become something it wasn’t. What has changed is events: that magnificent second place at Eastleigh; the March snow mocking the coalition’s global warming alarmism; the emergence of plausible, articulate representatives like the superb Diane James. No one I’ve met who joined Ukip recently did so as a protest vote: they did it because Ukip believes what they believe; because they see it as the future — the natural party of government in a brave new world where politicians are the people’s servants, not their masters.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 30 March 2013