Compare and contrast the following two statements from Westminster politicians over the last few weeks:
“I answer first, foremost and last to you, you are my boss, I will not let you down.”
“I’m very clear about who the boss is, about who I answer to, and it’s the British people.”
The first was Douglas Carswell’s victory speech following his Clacton by-election win. The second was David Cameron speaking on immigration last week. The phraseology is so similar – with the reference to voters as his “boss” and the only people “who I answer to” – that it is not a stretch to deduce that the Prime Minister has plagiarised UKIP’s first elected MP.
Then there were Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s controversial comments this weekend claiming that some British towns have been “swamped” by immigrants and feel as if they are “under siege” from foreigners. Fallon has since retracted the language he used and Cameron has told him to choose his words more carefully in future. It is worth noting however that this was not some slip from a blundering minister. Fallon very deliberately used those words, indeed from the certainty of his delivery it appeared that he had planned to say what he did prior to taking his chair in the Sky News studio.
All of which leads to one conclusion: the Tories are trying to steal UKIP’s lines, or, perhaps to put it more accurately, the Tories are trying to ‘steal’ what they perceive UKIP’s lines to be.
You can see why the Prime Minister would want to copy the admirable, ultra-democratic, evidently popular rhetoric of Carswell. As when he was a Tory MP, UKIP’s new poster boy is immensely well-liked in all quarters, mainly because of his genuine passion for reforming our broken political system and his career-long devotion to extending power down to normal people as much as possible. When Carswell tells the voters they are his “boss”, it is the truth. That is how he sees them.
The problem with Cameron lifting his lines is that the public will never see him as Carswell figure. Carswell is anti-establishment, opposing the status quo, fighting vested interests, a maverick seeking radical reform. Cameron is the antithesis of all these things. When Dave tells the voters they are his “boss”, it sounds like a soundbite that they will see straight through.
Similar is true when it comes to Fallon’s comments on immigration. To be fair to UKIP, even their senior figures would think twice about using such inflammatory rhetoric. As the party’s immigration spokesperson Steven Woolfe said, “Can you imagine what would have been said if we had said that?” Fallon’s remarks sounded more like a clumsy caricature of what clueless Tory ministers think UKIP voters want to hear. In a way, this is even worse than lifting UKIP’s actual words.
Voters who agree with Fallon that Britain is “swamped” by immigrants will have seen him then forced to apologise by his own party, realise that the Tories are not tough enough for them on immigration, and vote UKIP. Or they will quite legitimately decide that Fallon didn’t really mean what he said, that he did so purely because he thinks that is what they want to hear, feel patronised, and vote UKIP. Very few, if any, will have come away from this having decided to vote Tory instead of UKIP.
Indeed, it is difficult to see what the Tories will gain by stealing UKIP’s lines. David Cameron cannot out-Carswell Douglas Carswell. Michael Fallon cannot out-UKIP UKIP on immigration. Rather than concede defeat to UKIP’s arguments and then lose to them on the rhetoric as well, they have to come up with a better alternative.