If there is a hope, then perhaps it lies in a gentle sea breeze blowing westward from Clacton.
A remarkable coincidence occurred last week on the train on the way back up to my constituency, sitting next to a colleague for whom I have enormous respect and discussing UKIP’s potential amongst the working class forgotten by our political elite.
He quoted a sentence from George Orwell’s 1984, which I’ve had on my mind for some time: “if there is a hope, it lies in the proles”. Neither of us would use the word ‘prole’ ourselves (although Matthew Parris might) to refer to the working classes because it has developed derogatory connotations since Orwell penned his ominous work in the 1940s. Orwell’s contention that hope against the Big Brother State lay with the working classes was explained “because only there, in those swarming disregarded masses, eighty-five percent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated.” There’s a certain parallel with today’s political structure. It’s not in the trendy wine bars of Islington, or the seats packed with middle-class public sector workers, that anti-establishment feeling is likely to arise. Opposition to political correctness is unlikely to come from those who propagate it, and opposition to EU Directives is likely to come from those whose jobs are jeopardised by them.
The consequences of failing to comply with the politically correct establishment of today may be less horrifying than Room 101, but deviation from its path is enforced equally swiftly. Anything which strays from that message results in instant condemnation on Twitter and across the media. We’ve seen it in the last week. Nigel Farage comments that perhaps, in general, we should not allow those with serious life-threatening (and often communicable) diseases into the UK – at least not unless they can afford to pay for their own treatment – and witness the howls of outrage.
A University rugby team puts out a laddish, poor-taste, tongue-in-cheek leaflet. The appropriate reaction, to tell them to withdraw the leaflet and not to be so stupid in future, was missed. Instead, the club was suspended, it made the BBC news and students were ‘offered counselling’ in case they had been psychologically scarred from reading it. Anyone pointing out the overreaction, myself included, will no doubt be accused of ‘defending sexism’ or suchlike. No! I despise sexism, just as I despise racism, homophobia, and any other discrimination. I’m just saying that the offence taken should be proportional to the error, otherwise it cheapens the real ugliness of heartfelt racism like that I’ve seen for the first time in years in the European Parliament.
Political correctness is indeed hard to define, but you know it when you see it. But on the streets of the working-class constituencies which have the potential to be the future of UKIP, there is no such political correctness. The Conservatives are wrong to be so worried about UKIP ‘taking Conservative votes’, and Labour are wrong to be so complacent. Clacton contains Jaywick, the poorest Council ward in the country. UKIP did so well precisely because it was a working-class seat which has a huge disconnect with the Conservative Party. Thurrock and Boston & Skegness, both Conservative-held Labour targets which are likely to be snatched out of both of their hands by UKIP, may well be amongst the first to fall after Clacton.
But in the long-term, it is the Labour-held seats in working class areas which will be at risk in huge numbers. Clacton, Boston & Skegness and Thurrock fall into a very small category: strongly working-class seats with a Conservative MP. But in the longer term, there are far more such seats in Labour areas. In my own area alone (North East England) I might highlight Hartlepool, South Shields, Tynemouth, Blyth Valley, Wansbeck, Stockton South, Stockton North, Darlington and Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland amongst others as having potential for returning UKIP MPs in the longer term. Perhaps we won’t take many of those seats in 2015, but imagine how UKIP would do under an unpopular Labour government with Miliband as Prime Minister.
Labour can’t represent those voters because they don’t understand them. Up until now, they have relied on loyalty and Labour’s past reputation. Labour voters in those seats rarely provide a positive reason for voting Labour; rather, they explain that they have ‘always’ voted Labour – the Party which stood up for the working classes in the 50s and 60s. Once they finally get fed up with Labour, they will be just as loyal to UKIP as they were to Labour. In Sunday’s Survation poll which had UKIP on 25% of the vote, it’s noticeable that the Party was actually leading nationwide amongst the DE socio-economic groups.
Whilst Labour nationally seems complacent, local Labour constituency associations seem quicker to have spotted the UKIP threat. The challenge for UKIP here is merely to ensure that Labour’s lies go unchallenged. Where they claim that UKIP wish to privatise the NHS, we need to point out the lie – and go on to say that Labour are the Party of PFI. We need to point out that Labour peers Lord Winston and Lord Warner are the politicians who want to charge people to see their GP and pay for hospital visits.
Who said “A fully privatised NHS is the best option”? Actually, nobody said it. That’s just what Labour claimed on their leaflets in Heywood & Middleton that UKIP’s Deputy Leader said. He never did. He did once make a personal comment about procurement in the NHS, bemoaning the fact that we pay up to 30 times over the odds for some drugs. It wasn’t Party policy even so.
Likewise, some UKIP members are calling for the resignation of Labour’s Richard Howitt MEP after his sick tweet “UKIP says abort disabled children, put people w/learning diffs in camps & bans disabled candidates.” It’s about time that the Party started fighting back against such things. UKIP’s disabilities spokesperson Star Etheridge said “As a disabled person myself who encourages all other disabled people to enter politics, I find Mr Howitt’s repulsive comments deeply insulting and it is clear that he is not fit for office. He should hang his head in shame, issue an apology and stand down as an MEP. I am proud to be a UKIP councillor, I am proud to be UKIP’s Disabilities Spokesman. Mr Howitt’s comments are despicable.”
Strangely, nobody is claiming that Labour plan to charge patients to see their GP. Perhaps UKIP should offer Labour a deal: if they stop telling lies about us, we’ll stop telling the truth about them.