Perhaps the most startling quote in the Sunday papers came in Rod Liddle’s column. He was in Newark and had asked a man of indeterminate age (he has fun with this) how he intended to vote.
“Anyway, he replied with great enthusiasm: ‘I will be voting for UKIP.’
And so my follow up question was very straightforward: ‘UKIP? Are you a racist, sir?’
He looked at me as if I were mad. ‘Er…yes, of course I am.’”
It was familiar. Over the last few years acting as a family barrister along the Eastern seaboard (Boston, Lincs rather than Boston, Mass) I have encountered casual racism at every turn. ‘Can’t be doing with those foreigners,’ a client will say by way of introduction, flagging up his mistrust of the Poles, Latvians, Romanians, Lithuanians, Bulgarians and all the rest of the ‘ians’ who in his mind were agin him. This swathe of ‘opponents’ suggesting that a lump of Eastern England has turned against a very sizeable chunk of Eastern Europe.
Is it racist? Yes, of course it is. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And it may be the bedrock of the recent UKIP surge. The traditional parties have called out every UKIP MP’s misjudged comment. The message is ‘how can you vote for them?’ yet, I fear, it is received in many quarters with a ‘that’s precisely why I am going to vote for them’. These denunciations might work inside the M25 (the UK equivalent of the Washington Beltway) but in other parts of the country they are doing UKIP’s campaigning for them.
Inside Westminster they have failed to see how others see them. They believe that what obsesses them (a pantomime of small differences between their party and other parties and, even more fervently and absurdly, their party and others in their own party) has resonance elsewhere. I doubt this. Instead I sense there are increasingly significant numbers who think a plague on all three of your houses and particularly any coalition of houses that might be cobbled together to their, and no one else’s, benefit. Farage, whether by good luck or judgement, has taken advantage of this. His is the party that speaks to the disenfranchised and disenchanted. They will vote for him and his assorted muppets and puppets precisely because they are not Tory or Labour or the other lot whatever they are currently called.
Every time, therefore, the ‘opinion formers’ denounce UKIP they simply add to their electoral base. And the man who has based his whole political career on (and I really hate this word but it has become so ubiquitous as to be unavoidable) ‘channeling’ the Pub Landlord becomes an ever greater political player.
The inevitable irony being that a character the ‘comedian’ Al Murray created so that everyone could have a laugh at such an outdated figure has become a depiction of the crucial swing voter in the year ahead. He may be rich but the rest of us are poorer as the laughed upon have the last laugh.