The Fruitcakes Are Coming!
Some interesting political news from the UK, which ties in with my piece on the front page about the couple who had three foster children taken from them because they were members of the right-of-centre UK Independence party (UKIP) – and which will perhaps provide a crumb of consolation for downcast U.S. conservatives.
Yesterday three special elections (we call them by-elections) were held to fill vacant seats in the House of Commons. All three were 'safe' seats for the left-of-centre Labour party, and as expected Labour held all three. UKIP, however – which is widely regarded as a fringe or protest party of the right – came second in two of the contests, and third in the other one; and its best result came in Rotherham, where the fostering controversy erupted over the weekend, and where UKIP finished second with more than a fifth of the vote.
The results were the party's best showing in elections for the Westminster parliament. It's likely the fostering controversy earned UKIP a few votes, especially in Rotherham, and it certainly gave the party bags of free national publicity in the days leading up to the elections; however, the party has been making steady progress in recent years.
UKIP's success was a shot across the bows of the Conservative Party, which is in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who are essentially left-of-centre on most issues, but with a pro-business streak. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has allowed himself to be dragged to the centre by his coalition partners on issues including Britain's relationship with the European Union and 'green' energy, to the dismay of many of his MPs, and the party's grassroots supporters. His government has also failed to deliver a promised crackdown on immigration.
UKIP's flagship policies are withdrawal from the EU, and an end to the largely uncontrolled mass immigration to the UK of the last couple of decades – both of which are supported by a majority of the British people. The party has attracted disillusioned voters from both the Conservatives and Labour, but it's Cameron's Conservatives who stand to lose the most from UKIP's rise – by splitting the centre-right vote, it's reckoned to have cost the Tories up to 21 seats, and an overall Commons majority, in the 2010 general election.
Last night's results will increase the pressure on Cameron to move back to the right on Europe and immigration. There's also talk of a Tory-UKIP pact at the next general election – which will be in 2015, if the coalition survives that long – with UKIP not fielding candidates in 'marginal' Conservative seats. The sticking point is the contempt that UKIP members harbor for Cameron, who in 2006 dismissed them as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists" as he sought to ingratiate himself with Britain's liberal-left cultural and media establishment.
If Britain's economy remains sluggish, and UKIP continues to out-poll the Tories in by-elections, local council elections and the 2014 European elections, there's a good chance that Cameron will be ousted in favor of a more unabashedly right-wing leader. If he survives, he'll have to lose face by cutting a deal with UKIP, or move his party far enough to the right to negate the UKIP threat. Either way, last night's results were good news for British conservatives.