Anyone following the recent local elections could be forgiven for believing that a new powerful political force had emerged in the form of UKIP.
The BBC, Sky News, ITN and every other media outlet seemed determined to make a story out of the dullest of election campaigns for many a year and, in the absence of anything more interesting, lazy journalism led to a flurry of outrageous stories claiming that UKIP had made a major political breakthrough, with Nigel Farage and his band of merry men (and women) on the verge of smashing the traditional parties out of sight.
This myth was extolled by commentators who, quite frankly, should know better, and has continued in the aftermath of the May polls despite the fact that UKIP won only 14% of a low poll, and is still looking to secure its first parliamentary seat. Outside of its policies on immigration and Europe, UKIP have little or nothing to say on the issues that really matter to the electorate, the NHS, education and the economy.
It may suit Euro sceptic Tories and the Murdoch press to pretend that UKIP should be taken seriously. However, a glance back at recent history will tell you that UKIP are simply securing protest votes from the disaffected who are finding the mainstream parties and their leaders in need of a bit of a kicking – whilst most voters have decided to stay at home.
Back in the early eighties, as the Prime Minister who recently passed away with eulogies bordering on martyrdom was presiding over a country riven with division, experiencing high levels of community disorder, mass unemployment and inner city riots, voters were looking at how they could give her, and the Michal Foot led Labour Party, a kicking.
In 1981 Roy Jenkins was Nigel Farrage. He had, along with Labour defectors David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rodgers, formed the Social Democratic Party. Jenkins, a Euro enthusiast who had served in a sixties Labour government as Chancellor, successfully courted Liberal leader David Steel, and an Alliance was established between the two parties.
Such was the fervour surrounding the launch of this new political movement Steel proclaimed to delegates at the Liberal conference of 1982 “Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government.”
He was not saying this for effect, nor had he taken leave of his senses. Jenkins had won a parliamentary by-election in Glasgow Hillhead. Shirley Williams had won Crosby, Merseyside. Polls showed that the SDP-Liberal Alliance commanded over 50% support of the British electorate. David Steel and his colleagues had every reason to believe a media circus that was peddling the notion that the end was nigh for the two ‘big’, traditional parties.
Twelve months later, in April 1983, Margaret Thatcher was re-elected as Prime Minister with a three digit parliamentary majority – a landslide victory over second placed Labour who secured just 204 seats. The Alliance returned with just 23 MP’s.
Their bubble had burst, the electorate had decided ‘better the devil you know. Of course there were other factors. The Falklands War, Thatcher’s new found confidence in its aftermath, an economic recovery of sorts to name but a few. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that in the General Election of 2015 UKIP will be buried and become the footnote in history that they deserve to be.
It is true that Cameron, nor Miliband, is Margaret Thatcher. But then again Farage is no Roy Jenkins, and look what happened to him!