Ed West

Ukip’s supporters are anxious, not awkward

Ukip’s supporters are anxious, not awkward
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I guess the ‘unite the Right’ memo has not got through to some Tories, with Michael Heseltine calling Ukip 'a racist party' and James Wharton saying they’re ‘an awkward group of strange people’.

That may be unwise — rather like attacking your customer-base — but it’s also untrue. Small Right-wing parties have a huge disadvantage because, although lots of people are socially conservative, soc-cons tend on average to be low in social skills and charisma and so the normals are easily driven away by the weirds, especially when immigration is an issue.

But the early stages are the hardest, when any party right of the mainstream can become toxified and placed behind a cordaine sanitarie; once they reach a certain size their brand becomes established and media are wary of attacking them, and the bad news for Cameron is that Ukip have reached that point. Furthermore, after 2014 the party will be much less of a one-man band, the MEP list for next year being strong.

They still need to be careful; Godfrey Bloom was a genuine embarrassment but most of the ‘race rows’ manufactured by the media have looked like clutching at straws; if anyone is really offended by a press officer (whose other half is Asian) describing someone as of ‘some form of ethnic extraction’ then quite possibly they’re the weirdo.

As for Heseltine — I’m sure by his definition Ukip are racist, but what he characterises as racism would be described by the vast majority of people through time and space as simply ‘human nature’, the basic desire to be around people like you, to not become a minority in your town, neighbourhood or school. It’s a desire perfectly understood even by most immigrants and their children, but seemingly ignored by a party leadership that, as John Harris explained in the Guardian, ‘have a tin ear for issues that go from politics and economics into questions of national identity, culture and people's feelings for where they live.’

The Tories are not alone; the Guardian and the part of the Left they serve are totally deaf to such feelings, which is why they generally explain Ukip support only in economic terms (in which case why is the British radical Left moribund?).

That is not to say that economics doesn’t matter. In surveys the one question that distinguishes Ukip supporters from Tory loyalists is whether they think George Osborne is doing a good job, which suggests they are not awkward but anxious.

Despite the economy recovering, wages are still static and living costs are still going up, including the new housing bubble Osborne is encouraging.

The Tory conference was strong on attacking ‘something-for-nothing’ (which leaves me cold) but there was little about cost of living worries or the problem of low wages, which is at the heart of the welfare issue. In contrast Ed Miliband may have some daft answers, but at least he’s asking the questions.