June 14, 2004
Summary: The introduction of PR in Scotland and potentially the rest of the
UK will change the political landscape.
Conservatives Lose Their Place in the Sun
Fraser Nelson and James Kirkup
June 14, 2004
THE honeymoon lasted less than 72 hours. For two
glorious nights and one sunny Sunday, the Conservative Party had claimed 38
per cent of the vote and were 12 points ahead of Labour - for Tory
strategists, this was bliss.
But it was bliss with a shelf-life. As the first indications from the European
election started to come out last night, it emerged that the UK Independence
Party was robbing the Tories of the handsome vote-share they claimed in the
English local government elections.
Today, it will be Robert Kilroy-Silkĺ─˘s turn to crow. As the frontman (but
not the leader) of the UK Independence Party, the former talk-show host has
shaken up the British political establishment.
The first results in from London and the north-east of England showed that
both Labour and the Tories had seen their share of the vote plunge - and UKIP
soar in the most unlikely places.
Britain has just experienced two very different elections with one theme:
Labour being given a "kicking" - whether from its rather sorry
result in Scotland to finishing third in the English local authority
But last nightĺ─˘s European Parliament election results are more sophisticated
- and show a far more accurate picture of voter sentiment in the UK.
The picture painted by the results this morning is not one that either Labour
or the Tories will welcome. Britainĺ─˘s two-tone political composition is
becoming multi-coloured - and the proportional representation (PR) system used
for the European elections allows us to watch on new colour sets.
The brutal truth of UK politics is that voters donĺ─˘t much like either party.
The overwhelming winner in last Thursdayĺ─˘s votes was the abstention party -
the tens of millions who donĺ─˘t vote because they find the choices on offer
But the voting system can usher people into various camps. The less choice
they have at election time, the more likely they are to choose the party which
most closely represents their views.
Labour has old-style socialists whose fathers and grandfathers voted the same
way: they will back Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, at the ballot box but
secretly hope he will go. Former Tories will vote Labour, admiring the way Mr
Blair handled the war, hoping that he will stay.
But UK opinion polls show two strands of opinion with no mainstream political
home: these are outright hostility to the European Union and hostility to
This is surprising only in as much as no major political party says this, no
major newspaper espouses these views: they are underground political
sentiments that have no home in the political consensus based around
No party or paper routinely says "withdraw from the EU" or
"shut the door on these unwelcome immigrants". Yet this is exactly
what hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of voters think - and they care
about this more than they care about Labour or the Tories.
UKIP has picked up both camps. Withdrawal from the EU is the partyĺ─˘s
signature theme, but its campaign leaflets focused strongly on migration
fears. It is diving into waters where other parties do not dare to wade.
In the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system - where a country is divided into
constituencies and the winner takes all in each area - these voters are forced
to choose one of two big players. And UKIP voters normally choose Tory.
But when let loose on the PR system, knowing their vote will not only be
counted but stands a fair chance of electing a candidate, UKIP voters can
choose their voice of protest.
In London, they spoke far louder than the anti-war noises being made by George
Galloway, the Glasgow Kelvin MP who last night learnt he has failed to break
into Brussels with 4.8 per cent of the vote. UKIP claimed 6.8 per cent.
The FPTP system has, for years, been covering up the anti-EU and
anti-immigrant vote, which is demonstrated by the PR system used in the
European Parliament. Each system delivers different results.
This is why Mr Howard always had much more to lose when the European
Parliament elections were counted. The Tories had a far stronger contingent of
people who had finally found a party (UKIP) that represents their views, but
they chose Tory in the English local elections.
UKIP, of course, has been around for more than a decade. Founded in 1993 by
Alan Sked, a London School of Economics professor who has since abandoned the
party, UKIP had hovered on the fringes of politics but kept out of the
mainstream by the big partiesĺ─˘ unspoken agreement that no matter how fierce
the Brussels-bashing became, any talk of outright withdrawal was quite beyond
Norman Tebbit, Margaret Thatcherĺ─˘s former party chairman, summed up the
Toriesĺ─˘ struggle yesterday morning on Breakfast with Frost.
"I think voting UKIP for a lot of Conservative voters is a way of firing
a shot across the bows of the Conservative Party. The trouble is that if they
are not careful they could fire it a bit close to the waterline," he
said, sticking as loyally to Mr Howardĺ─˘s line as he could, before admitting
in the next breath that "I understand the views of the people" who
support the party.
UKIP supporters revel in this ability to cause the Conservatives such
anguished confusion, much as the smoker who sucks 40 red Marlboro a day likes
to deride those nibbling at low-tar brands: Wouldnĺ─˘t you like a real smoke?
Wouldnĺ─˘t you like a real policy on Europe?
Many inside and outside UKIP expect Mr Kilroy-Silk soon to replace the
partyĺ─˘s pedestrian leader, Roger Knapman, who has been effectively eclipsed
by the partyĺ─˘s new star turn.
Perhaps more interesting will be the role played by some of the partyĺ─˘s
off-camera chiefs. Max Clifford, the celebrity PR master with the most
comprehensive address book in the industry, has quietly advised the resurgent
UKIP. So has Dick Morris, an ex-aide to the former US president Bill Clinton.
Such heavyweight support suggests that UKIP may well be able to sustain some
of its new-found prominence, especially with a transfusion of new blood in the
form of newly-elected representatives such as Nicholas Hockney and Peter
Cross, who last week won seats on the London Assembly.
"Donĺ─˘t believe any of this nonsense about us fading away after the
summer. Weĺ─˘ve raised our profile and started the debate - weĺ─˘re not going
anywhere," said one UKIP candidate last night.
This year, a cocktail of ingredients has combined to create a form of
political dynamite that threatens to explode the existing two-party consensus.
The first factor was Mr Howardĺ─˘s urgent need to end the Conservative civil
war over Europe, which led him to broker a peace-deal that prevents both the
ardently pro and the furiously anti-EU camps from speaking out. Then UKIP
acquired a high-profile frontman, in the ubiquitous form of Mr Kilroy-Silk.
That, along with their frustration at Mr Howardĺ─˘s position, helped persuade
a handful of Eurosceptic tycoons to start giving serious money to UKIP.
And the political classesĺ─˘ apparent acceptance that - even on the verge of
another great lurch forward in the integration project - talk of outright
rejection of the EU was off-limits, simply acted as the spark on the UKIP
The inevitable detonation that followed has very little to do with how many
seats UKIP wins in the European Parliament. For the shrapnel from the blast
has already wounded both the big parties.
Labour will now be keen to say that the Tories are split and facing a
disaster. The situation, however, is far easier to manage. UKIP can be put
back in its box quite easily: by using the FPTP election system next year.
Last nightĺ─˘s results appeared likely to show, beyond any doubt, that
different election systems provide different results. Thanks to the European
Parliament election result, we now know far better what the political mood and
instincts of Britain really are.
But none of this matters, because the Westminster election system is designed
to put a straitjacket on multiple political sympathies and pare it down into
support for two or three parties. This system specialised in squeezing out
parties like UKIP.
It may well be that UKIP, which has never had to struggle to find wealthy
backers, puts up a number of candidates in the general election pencilled in
for May next year. But there is little chance of it moving the real political
James Goldsmithĺ─˘s Referendum Party caused so much mischief under John
Majorĺ─˘s government because any of three main parties could have promised a
referendum on joining the European single currency. In the end, it influenced
However, pulling out of the EU is anathema to Labour and the Liberal
Democrats. Neither party will buckle - and nor should the Tories. The two
election results show that, in a first-past-the-post election, UKIP
sympathisers will back Mr Howard.
And Labour, meanwhile, will continue with its strategy of arguing that Tories
secretly think what UKIP says.
As last nightĺ─˘s elections showed, this is a tactic which will hardly weaken
their opponent - there seem to be several million people who would, if this
was the case, vote Tory. As Mr Blair licked his wounds over a second election
drubbing last night, he would have learnt it is his party which may have more