Over at the Guardian, John Harris writes that, despite apparently having gone quiet, UKIP still poses a significant electoral threat to the Labour Party.
Analysis by Lord Ashcroft shows that UKIP is now the most popular party in two key Labour target seats – Thurrock and South Thanet – while also eating into Labour’s supporting in others. This could significantly affect Labour’s chances of winning a majority at the next election.
Harris also warns that attempts by Labour to tackle UKIP head-on by trying to appear tough on immigration could backfire as “there are few spectacles less convincing than lefty-liberals affecting to “get tough” on this and that, while actually dying inside.”
David Cameron is pursuing his interest in fish markets; Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have been acting up about Gaza. Where is Nigel Farage? After Ukip’s spectacular showing in May’s local and European elections, one might have expected it to leap into a frantic summer. Instead, it has gone quiet, feeding an uneasy sense – outside Scotland anyway – of politics unexpectedly returning to normal.
As holidays are taken and the inane rituals of party conferences loom, too many politicians and commentators seem to have fallen for a comfy bit of groupthink: that what with the odd poor poll showing and this sudden outbreak of silence, the menace has receded and we have passed “peak Ukip”. In other words, to quote the wisdom of four-year-olds and people on bad acid, if they can’t see the monster, the monster can’t see them.
“We’re consolidating,” a Ukip high-up assures me. Farage has a new “front bench”, comprising 12 men and five women – all “spokesmen” – who are busy getting on top of their briefs; the domination of the news by horrors overseas (“Other people’s wars – ghastly as they are”) means Ukip is bound to stand to one side. “We’d be foolish to pretend we know more than we do,” he says. What he’s keen to emphasise is the level of grassroots “grunt work” going on, which is embedding Ukip in no end of council wards and parliamentary seats, and cementing its bond with voters.
Meanwhile, a party whose apex of power is control of a town council 13 miles outside Peterborough continues to pull mainstream politics squarely in its direction. Cameron announces new migration measures that will “put Britain first”. Boris Johnson trails his quest to return to the Commons – and obviously to become Tory leader – with the specious claim that the UK could have a “great and glorious future” outside the EU. Only four months ago, Clegg presented himself as a principled avenger come to chop down Ukip’s nasty populism; now he calls for new controls on migration from EU countries and announces the end of subsidised translation for passports and driving licences. Maybe that’s what the prime minister would call “muscular liberalism”; perhaps it actually demonstrates that the Liberal Democrats are led by an absolute chancer.
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