Get PJ Media on your Apple

‘British Tea Party’ Makes Big Gains in UK Election

Will the UK Independence Party pull the Tories to the right, or fracture the nation’s conservatives?

by
Mike McNally

Bio

May 19, 2013 - 12:00 am

The UK Independence Party — the anti-European Union, tough-on-immigration party that has bedeviled Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative party in recent years — is riding high following its best-ever showing in nationwide elections. As sure as night follows day, when UKIP does well it means the issue of Britain’s relationship with the EU is pushed to the top of the political agenda.

UKIP secured 23% of the national popular vote in local government elections earlier this month, just two points behind the Conservatives. The left-wing Labour party came in narrowly ahead with 29% — a pitiful showing for the main party of opposition given the current miserable state of the UK economy — while the Tories’ coalition partners, the left-of-center Liberal Democrats, won 14%.

It’s now clear that, one way or another, UKIP will have a big say in the outcome of the general election in 2015. But exactly what effect it will have — and who benefits — depends on whether, in their heart of hearts, UKIP’s leaders and supporters see their party as a serious force in national politics or as an insurgent movement with the aim of pushing the Conservatives to the right, in the mold of America’s Tea Party.

UKIP is often called “the British Tea Party” — like the Tea Party itself, it’s broadly to the right of establishment conservative positions on most issues. It also shares the Tea Party’s populist, anti-establishment streak. However, while the Tea Party supported candidates who opposed establishment Republicans in primary contests for the last two congressional elections, it didn’t run candidates against the GOP in the subsequent elections.

UKIP is an entirely separate political party, and this creates a very different dynamic to that of the Tea Party/GOP relationship. The danger for Cameron and the Conservatives is that a strong showing by UKIP in 2015 will split the right-of-center vote, allowing the Labour party to limp into power by default, possibly in coalition with the Lib Dems.

In a bid to counter the UKIP threat, Cameron has been shifting subtly rightwards by unveiling tougher policies on immigration and welfare. But the Tories’ weakness — and UKIP’s strength — remains Europe, and in the wake of the latest results pressure has been growing on Cameron to “shoot the UKIP fox” (a uniquely British political figure of speech, with its origins in the rural pastime of fox-hunting and which roughly translates as “deprive a party of its most effective issue”) by taking a harder line on the EU.

In a speech in January, Cameron committed his party to holding an in/out referendum on EU membership in 2017, after attempting to secure a better deal for Britain in negotiations with other member states. He won backing for that position this week from President Obama, who said Britain should try to “fix” its relationship with Europe before breaking it off completely — a slight softening of his administration’s stance from earlier this year, when one of his top officials warned against a British exit.

The glaring problem with this strategy: before the Tories can hold any referendum or enter into negotiations, they would have to win the general election — and this time, ideally, with an outright majority. And the main obstacle to a Tory victory is UKIP.

Bowing to pressure from “euroskeptic” MPs, Cameron this week announced a bill outlining the terms of the proposed referendum. Because of Lib Dem opposition the bill won’t form part of the coalition’s legislative program, and it has only a slim chance of becoming law. But the Conservatives hope that, by forcing Labour and the Lib Dems to vote against the bill, they’ll be able to campaign in 2015 as the only party giving Britons a say on Europe.

The move wasn’t enough to stop more than 100 Tory MPs voting on May 15 from expressing “regret” that a referendum bill wasn’t official government policy, in what was seen as another sign of Conservative divisions over Europe and a setback for the prime minister. And neither is it enough for UKIP, which is demanding a referendum before the next election.

But UKIP’s position is not without risks of its own. The party’s colorful and combative leader Nigel Farage knows that as things stand, the more success he enjoys, the more likely it is that he’ll cost the Conservatives the election, thereby killing off any chance of a referendum. The Labour party, while not as fanatically pro-Europe as the Lib Dems, is fully committed to keeping Britain in the EU.

The obvious solution for both the Conservatives and UKIP would be some kind of electoral pact. However, Cameron has insisted there will be no such arrangement. Farage, for his part, says he’s open to a deal with the Tories, but only if the party dumps Cameron and replaces him with a leader more sympathetic to UKIP’s position. In 2006 Cameron famously referred to UKIP as “a bunch of fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists,” and although he’s walked back those comments as UKIP has gained in popularity, there’s no love lost between the two leaders.

The only chance of an end to the current standoff would be if the Conservatives were indeed to oust Cameron. That seems unlikely however, and there will come a time late next year when the point of no return will be passed in the run-up to the 2015 election — the point after it would be unthinkable for the Conservatives to ditch Cameron and still have a chance of winning.

At that juncture something will have to give if there’s to be any chance of a pro-referendum government being elected, but neither Cameron or Farage will want to lose face. With an official pact unlikely, grassroots activists on both sides are talking about making informal deals at the local level, with the party that has the least chance of winning a particular seat standing aside to give the other a clear run (while UKIP gets most of its support from former Tory voters, it’s also been taking votes from Labour, particularly in the north of England). It’s even been suggested that candidates could run on a joint Tory-UKIP ticket.

UKIP has always vehemently rejected the suggestion that it’s simply a protest party for disgruntled Tory voters who want to give their leadership a poke in the eye, but who will return to the fold when things get serious at the general election. But even the most ardent UKIPper knows — although you won’t hear them admitting it, at least not yet – that their party has no chance of winning more than a handful of seats of their own. The only certain outcome of a strong UKIP showing in 2015 would be a left-wing, pro-Europe government.

Assuming that Cameron remains as his party’s leader, and continues to throw his party enough scraps to prevent it losing more ground to UKIP, the time is coming when UKIP will have to make a choice. It can stand on principle, make the perfect the enemy of the good, and wave goodbye to any prospect of Britain leaving the EU for at least another five years; or it can help to bring about a Conservative victory, and with it the possibility of a British exit — or at the very least, a looser, trade-based relationship with Europe.

Will the British Tea Partiers follow in the footsteps of their American cousins, and force the Conservatives to return to first principles and to reconnect with their base? Or will they simply spoil the party for the Tories — and for the majority of Britons who want to break the shackles of Europe?

Mike McNally is a journalist based in Bath, England. He posts at PJ Tatler and at his own blog Monkey Tennis, and tweets at @notoserfdom. When he's not writing about politics he writes about Photoshop.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
As an observer from the west side of the pond, I see two problems that Cameron cannot finesse. First of all, this is not the first time that the Conservatives have promised an in-or-out vote on the EU. They lied, and reneged as soon as they got into office. "Fool me once, shame on you .....".

Second, Cameron and his equivalent of the Institutional Republicans [although Brit Conservatives in practice would be Democrats here] are as much at war with their own Tory base as the Institutional Republicans are with the Conservative/TEA Party/Patriot base of the Republican Party. I don't know if Cameron would go so far as the Republicans and deliberately lose elections to the Left if it harms the C/TP/P base; but there is a bit of an uproar that may be indicative.

Cameron and/or one of his chief deputies [the issue is in doubt according to Brit papers] called the base of the Conservative party, especially those who do not want unrestricted immigration into Britain, who do not want gay marriage, and who do not want the EU bureaucracy over-riding British laws or imposing EU diktats at will, "Swivel-eyed Loons". For some reason, this is not being taken by Brit Conservatives as a term of affection.

Being TEA Party, I kind of understand how they feel.

Subotai Bahadur
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (14)
All Comments   (14)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
As an observer from the west side of the pond, I see two problems that Cameron cannot finesse. First of all, this is not the first time that the Conservatives have promised an in-or-out vote on the EU. They lied, and reneged as soon as they got into office. "Fool me once, shame on you .....".

Second, Cameron and his equivalent of the Institutional Republicans [although Brit Conservatives in practice would be Democrats here] are as much at war with their own Tory base as the Institutional Republicans are with the Conservative/TEA Party/Patriot base of the Republican Party. I don't know if Cameron would go so far as the Republicans and deliberately lose elections to the Left if it harms the C/TP/P base; but there is a bit of an uproar that may be indicative.

Cameron and/or one of his chief deputies [the issue is in doubt according to Brit papers] called the base of the Conservative party, especially those who do not want unrestricted immigration into Britain, who do not want gay marriage, and who do not want the EU bureaucracy over-riding British laws or imposing EU diktats at will, "Swivel-eyed Loons". For some reason, this is not being taken by Brit Conservatives as a term of affection.

Being TEA Party, I kind of understand how they feel.

Subotai Bahadur
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Given the nexus between government, the financial district, and the Ivory Towers of Academia, I highly recommend that you read http://www.commonwealthtrade.info

There are a lot of page, but well worth the read, and frankly a better alternative than the aforementioned who want the status quo to change to their liking. That is, if they want change.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Exactly like the folks in the UK, we tea partiers realize that the establishment "right" is little different from the Marxists. Some of us have a "let it burn" attitude. To spell this attitude out, it is that there is no real difference between the moderates and the Marxists and that the world would be better served by a total collapse of the existing order.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
A UKIP-Tory Coalition government would be great for the UK.

As someone said, UKIP is garning votes from Labour and Lib Dem, not just the Tories. Specifically disaffected white working class traditional Labour voters whove been tossed under the bus under the PC Multiculturalism of the Left, which has been embraced by the Tory (Left-Lite) Party as well.

I hope to see a Tory-UKIP government and then a UKIP-Tory government, with the Tories eventually dwindling to nothing. The Social Democrat New Left Lite Me Too Parties of Europe are finished. The Nationalist Parties are on the rise.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agreed, but it won't happen till after the next election and only then if Labour wins - which they most probably will.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Go UKIP! Go British Freedom!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have always wondered about Britain's efforts with the continent. Never, in any history I have read, have continental involvements worked well for Britain, or Ireland for that matter. Yet they keep going back for more.

Beyond trade with a near neighbor, Britain should, imho, renew it's interest in itself.

I would contribute good money to a serious Anglo-sphere effort: Aus, Can, NZ, UK, US and possibly India. First a treaty... then.

Remember, the US Declaration of Independence uses the words "when in the course of human events...", implying that events can change the course. REUNIFICATION of the English Speaking Peoples.

Best wishes from Virginia

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ireland could sign on, after a little soul searching.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
LOL!

I agree. The AngloSphere should get it's mojo back
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't envy UKIP or the Conservatives their difficult choices in the coming months. Here in Canada, we had two conservative parties for several years, the old-line Progressive Conservative Party which was only barely to the right of center, and the new upstart Reform Party which was actually conservative. For several elections, they split votes with monotonous regularity and a given riding would vote, say, 60% for conservatives and 40% for the Liberals, and the Liberals would get into Parliament and form a government. Slowly, painfully, the two conservative parties merged with the Reform faction by far the dominant wing and the merged party dropped "Progressive" from its name. And now we have a moderately right-of-center party in power with a majority. It look a long time to accomplish that but now there is a single conservative party and the vote splitting often works in our favour now as the remaining votes are split between the leftist parties. The Liberals and the NDP, the two biggest leftist parties, have even toyed with the idea of merging but the consensus seems to be that they just don't have enough in common.

I truly hope conservatives in the UK can figure out how to work together. The last thing the UK needs is another Labour majority. I'm not sure their economy can survive if another like Tony Blair gets into power for an extended period.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've been fascinated with Farage's performances in the EU Parliament but never understood the party's role in UK politics that well. I hope they can find a way to work with the Tories such that they get the referendum. Long term I want to see the UK part of the Anglosphere, not ahem... Greater Germany. It started the Anglosphere and has a lot more to contribute to it. So in the words of that 18th century toast: "Confusion to the French!"
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Isn't it funny how no money and no job can open the eyes of even a socialist. Maybe they aren't a dumb as I give them credit as being. Tell the Euroninnies they can roll in their own muck.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Actually, UKIP has taken more votes from Labour than the Conservatives.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Interesting conundrum:
1. Drop the most important long term issue for the UK and possibly win.
2. Stand on principles and probably lose.

My observation of politicians is they will ALWAYS abandon principles if it means retaining power.

There is a third way, have a referendum right after the next election, but Cameron, for his own reasons, has closed that door. It could be the path to both electoral victory, and more importantly, the opportunity for the UK to vote on their EU membership.

Here's to UK independence!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
View All