Of all the opportunities my accidental career in politics and such have afforded me, one of the greatest pleasures remains giving talks to sixth form pupils.
This morning I addressed a group of 16-18 year olds at University College School, a gorgeous independent in Hampstead, North West London, on the themes of politics and change. I spoke of my own journey through politics from Conservative Future to UKIP to a different career path altogether and tried to convey the message that change is no bad thing.
One doesn’t always take the right or most suitable path the first time and if you want to succeed and fulfil your own potential you mustn’t be afraid to take risks or change your mind; what is important is sticking to your principles, surrounding yourself with good people and not trying to please everyone at all times – it isn’t possible and you lose part of yourself in the process.
Oh, and always employ a decent accountant. For me, those principles include a commitment to small government, low taxes, self-government and freedom, which is why I left Cameron’s Conservatives for UKIP. It was a truly fun hour with a Q&A session that posed some rather challenging questions and I came away from it deeply impressed with UCS and the intelligence and charm of its pupils.
I also realised the extent to which UKIP still has an image problem with many young people; they must try desperately hard to shift its image as a party of racists because, frankly, they are not and it’s a lazy and inaccurate criticism.
This morning also highlighted a recent fundamental shift in British politics. Not from left to right, but from ultimately dull and predictable to actually rather fun again.
Not for years has politics been as interesting as it is right now. After decades of a two party system and the first few years of a pseudo-comfortable Coalition with an entirely ineffective opposition, change is afoot and the stakes are high.
Those of us who care for such larks are spoilt for choice; in the past month alone there has been the Scottish referendum, two MP defections sparking two of three upcoming by elections, the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition forgetting the biggest political and economic issue of our time, an eventful conference season, poll ratings all over the shop, entirely unpredictable local government results and a government minister referring to Nick Clegg as a w*nker.
On the issue of Scotland, the meteoric rise of the SNP over the past decade managed to inspire 97 percent of the populace to register to vote, with an unprecedented 84.5 percent of them turning out to cast their vote.
Labour’s stranglehold on our cousins north of the border has been quashed. There are similar scenes in the north of England; in the key Labour safe seat of Heywood and Middleton UKIP are polling 35 percent and rumour has it Labour are throwing the kitchen sink in fear.
A recent poll found that just 0.7 percent said they would vote Labour because of their faith in Ed Miliband, whereas 61.2 percent will back Labour because they always have. Tribal loyalties are breaking down; a decade or so ago that figure would have been more like 80 percent, although I can’t help thinking that, despite this drop, it’s a little depressing that a full 30 percent of the constituency would vote for the proverbial pig with a red rosette.
Last night UKIP won a formerly safe Labour council seat in South Tyneside with 40 percent of the vote from a standing start. Truly, the party of disgruntled Tories no longer; UKIP are making gains across the political spectrum and long may it continue.
Next week it gets even better; we have the Heywood and Clacton by-elections. Clacton is a very safe Conservative seat yet yesterday David Cameron referred to his party as the “underdogs” in this election race. Absolutely nothing is certain anymore and in our era of serious political disengagement and a country-wide wariness of all things Westminster this can only be a good thing.
Unfortunately, not all young people are as politically engaged or, indeed, engaging as those I met this morning. However, one cannot help but hope that the days of certainty are finished and with them political apathy, the plague of modern politics. And, regardless of what one thinks of UKIP, whether you love or hate their policies, the party is doing its darnedest to change our political scene and stir the electorate into action.
Whatever the result, this is an exciting time to be involved and bloody good fun too.