Sunday, 5 May 2013

UKIPPERS for Breakfast & a Well Done to the English Greens!

The Lagan Valley Green Party congratulates the Green Party in England on their recent increase in seats in local council elections. This equated to roughly ¼ more seats, and no significant losses in any area. This also confirms the Green Party as the 5th largest party represented in English councils – no mean feat!

However, the media clamour is likely to focus on the meteoric performance of UKIP, despite the fact that the real story was Labour's return to form with gains of 291 seats. UKIP’s success is not totally attributable to the public endorsing their policies, which aren’t clear in the first place. If you disagree then answer this - where do they stand on quantitative easing? Welfare reform? The rail network? And so on. Much as the Conservative coalition government was a result of a protest vote at perceived Labour mismanagement, the UKIP gains seem to be a protest vote by an England that has grown disillusioned with the failures of the Tories during their time in power.

People may ask why the Greens didn’t get a larger slice of this protest pie. This is in no small part due to the massive amounts of exposure and free publicity given to UKIP by the likes of the English Daily Mail, Express and other traditionally Tory supporting papers.  The Greens have traditionally not been a hot ticket for the media with their more down to earth approach. As a lot of UKIP supporters noted on their twitter feeds, “The BBC played a blinder” for them trying to make memorable TV debates between UKIP and Tory candidates. UKIP also has seemingly quite a large budget for publicity. Marketing is probably the strongest weapon in getting through to record amounts of apathy filled voters in a climate of poor turnout.

Secondly, as  Boris Johnson has proved, and many a spin doctor knows too well, no one will vote for an old, stuffed shirt conservative a la John Major, Michael Heseltine et al. Nigel Farage has succeeded by having a 'too cool for school' media persona, complete with quips and witticisms. Its unlikely 'BoJo' would have unseated 'Red Ken' if it wasn’t for his mercurial turn on Have I Got News For You, for example.

Thirdly the Greens were hamstrung by not having the resources to field as many candidates. UKIP's shrewd policy of fielding for almost every council seat needed the resources - and potential candidates - that the Greens would not be able to put forward. So a lot of fortuitous things came together for UKIP. 

UKIP's short history has already included a plane crash, several changes in management and numerous Basil Fawlty style right wing gaffes from prominent members leading to expulsion. But what are they likely to offer their constituents? As the UKIP policies are very woolly on everyday life subjects like planning, housing, environmental health and transport, its hard to gauge.

Remember, they were essentially founded as a single issue party - "save the pound" being their main objective, as their logo suggests. Its more the vibe they wish to portray which is significant, as economic liberals with a Euro-sceptic socially conservative bent. Its the fact that keeping so many new politicians, presumably with little previous experience as public officials, on topic which is likely to be their immediate problem.

It was well publicised that UKIP did not have policies that encompassed every aspect they needed to, and also well publicised is the fact that there appeared to be a "lunatic fringe" element with more unacceptable ideas, such as Geoffrey Clark (compulsory abortion) who was in fairness ejected from the party. But then again, more socially liberal elements within the youth section of the party have also been jettisoned - like Olly Neville, seemingly being maligned for supporting same sex marriage. It seems the battle will be for middle ground, and herding such vast numbers of new politicians will be a mammoth task for any whip.

UKIP are also now in control of some councils in very impoverished areas - such as Thanet in Kent. With their focus on economic liberalisation (which surely is what led to the recession in the first place!) and increasing punitive justice whilst backing out of the EU, it will be interesting to see exactly what they offer to the people they have been tasked with looking after.

The Green Party's gains are pleasing and look to be sustainable. People know what they will get with a Green councillor, and appear to be pleased with the results so far judging by repeat terms for many of our councillors. UKIP on the other hand are still somewhat of an unknown quantity. They will do well to be mindful of the old adage "easy come, easy go" and the real test will be whether or not they keep their seats next time round. After all, despite the English vice of being excessively tolerant of eccentricity in their public representatives, their lack of tolerance for incompetence may well mean that UKIP will be the recipients of the next protest vote. In the meantime we are looking forward to watching the new UKIP sitcom, coming to an English council near you!

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