A Lesson From Australia: How the Conservatives and Lynton Crosby Will Seek to Deflate the Farage Balloon

A Lesson From Australia: How the Conservatives and Lynton Crosby Will Seek to Deflate the Farage Balloon

Quiet now. Can you hear that? Ukip members say their party is coming along quite nicely, thank you very much; trebles all round and take a gander at the scoreboard.

They have a brace of seats at Westminster and a leader in Nigel Farage who can frame the national political debate whenever he talks immigration control or the overbearing elites of Brussels and Strasbourg.

Witness David Cameron speaking last Friday in a JCB factory in Staffordshire. Nobody heard these words from a Conservative at the 2010 general election:

“It is not wrong to express concern about the scale of people coming into the country. People have understandably become frustrated. It boils down to one word: control.

“People want government to have control over the numbers of people coming here and the circumstances in which they come, both from around the world and from within the European Union.”

Ya think, Dave?

The prime minister was forced to tackle the EU immigration issue because Ukip put it on the agenda and pushed him to the microphone. Of course, Cameron’s approach did nothing to tackle the supply-side of the problem by capping the number of inbound EU migrants because he simply couldn’t do that. But, what the hey, it’s a start.

Where could it possibly go wrong now for Ukip on the march?

Look to Australia for a salutary lesson in how an insurgent party that taps a national nerve on immigration and sovereignty can eventually collapse under the weight of its own expectations.

Back in the 1990s Australian politics saw a new party emerge called One Nation. It was led by a sometime fish and chip shop proprietor named Pauline Hanson.

She spoke against what she saw as unsustainable levels of immigration and porous border controls.

Hanson was initially successful because what she said out loud had not been heard in Australia for generations and she stood as an outsider against an established political system many Australians believed had betrayed them.

Hanson wanted zero net immigration, an end to multiculturalism and a revival of Australia’s Anglo-Celtic cultural tradition she said had been diminished almost beyond recognition.

Plenty of voters lapped it up.

Hanson made it to Canberra as a parliamentarian in 1996 (albeit as an independent) and founded the One Nation party soon after. At its peak One Nation claimed to have 22 percent support amongst voters and boasted 11 representatives in the Queensland state parliament.

Then it all came apart as quickly as it started.

One Nation was easy to fight because the grounds of engagement were so narrow. Soon enough the ruling conservative coalition under Prime Minister John Howard started to speak on the same issues (Hanson said her policies were stolen) and clawed back lost ground by advocating a draw down of immigration numbers and a winding back of state-sponsored welfare.

Hanson first lost her policy platform and then her seat in the 1998 election as the party dissolved into bickering and infighting.

By the end of 1999 support for One Nation had fallen to 5 percent of voters as the remainder drifted back to the traditional parties.

Interestingly, the man who acted as an electoral adviser to John Howard in the 1998 campaign that destroyed One Nation’s ambitions was one Lynton Crosby – the very same man now entrusted with guiding David Cameron’s Tories into next year’s poll.

Crosby helped craft the John Howard line delivered whenever Australian border protection was raised: “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”

The last six words exactly mirror those spoken by David Cameron last Friday as he sought to deflate the Farage balloon.

So Ukip followers had better get used to it.

As the party closes on next year’s election the less easy it will be to frame itself as a political outrider when the Conservatives are stealing its policy clothes.

Simply saying Europe, Europe, Europe is not enough.

The party will have to organise. Then it will have to develop ideas on a number of issues because it will be challenged on platforms right across the country on monetary and fiscal policy, defence, health, roads, transport and infrastructure development.

That’s what happens when people stop laughing at you and start taking you seriously.

This presents a threat and an opportunity for Ukip’s future.

If it remains a party solely focused on immigration and EU power then it risks having the issues pulled out from under it by the Conservatives.

If, on the other hand, Ukip does the wonkish policy work that all parties aspiring to power must do (and if you don’t aspire to power, what’s the point of politics?), then it will have a broader, more coherent alternative to present to the LibLabCon triumvirate.

Six months is not a lot of time to go from chippy outsider to confident main player.

Ukip’s recent wins are only the end of the beginning of a possible transition to power and not the beginning of the end for the ruling political elites.

Well, not yet anyway.