Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Every creed has its "Cuckoo Faction": why UKIP are 'the new SDP'

All the great faiths (and political movements are in essence Godless faiths) have schisms from time to time.

In 1054 the medieval world was rent asunder when the Chalcedonian Church was hewn into the Eastern Orthodox and Western Roman Catholic traditions over the urgent question as to whether the Eucharist bread should be leaven or not. While both sides could agree on the central tenets of Christianity, they could meet no accommodation on the issue of whether one's communion loaf should be risen or flat and the two factions split, never to be reconciled again. 

In the early 1980s, the Labour party leader Michael Foot, a Wadham man to his fingertips, attempted to turn his already somewhat Maoist party into something that would have made Trotsky blush. His election manifesto, which became known as "the longest suicide note in history", demanded (among other things) the re-nationalisation of the butter industry, the sale of the navy to the Russians, the construction of a Soviet theme park at Buckingham Palace and the abolition of the blue and white themes on the Union Jack. 

Foot's foolish and ill-timed document did not chime well with the electorate and drove the four remaining sensible MPs in his party to form "The SDP" whose bright moment in the sun I shall return to in a moment.

While one might shy from comparing UKIP to the Eastern Orthodox Church of the mid-eleventh century and the eminently likeable Mr Farage to the tiresome 'Mr' Foot, the schism which has occurred in The Conservative Movement is very much in the grand tradition of such estrangements. Here the question is not one of 'baked dough' or 'red flags', but far more important questions such as: "should Brussels be allowed to dictate the size of our sprouts?" Or "Should our "civil liberties" drive on the left (as they always have done) or the 'human right' (as the legal oafs in Strasbourg would wish us to do)". 

One does not need to be Archimedes of Syracuse to work out that the "Kippers" are in essence a refugee wing of the Tory party and specifically the "Redwood wing" of John Major's administration ca. 1996. There is something rather noble about these people and one is often put in mind of the anti-appeasers of the 1930s, who saw the tide turning in favour of Nazi Germany and boldly decided to make a stand. It is my conviction that we should seek not to drive them from the high altar of Tory Euroscepticism, but accommodate them and where our interests meet perhaps even indulge them.

Indeed one might argue that Nigel Farage's party is in many ways a right wing equivalent of the 1980s SDP. Just as Labour and the Liberals were forced to rethink who they were by what was then considered to be a fresh and unstoppable movement, so UKIP are now making us rethink our party and what we stand for. Do we wish to push forward into Europe and put ourselves at the centre of that strange, mystifying, dark and perilous continent? Or do we wish to pull back, disconnect and have nothing more to do with those garlic munching buffoons? 

In recent weeks the media has sought to focus on the 'loons', 'racists' and 'nutters' in UKIP; the sort of slightly misguided chumps who suggest that 'Sharia Law' is about to be introduced in our primary schools or that the EU is run by a vast Lizard army. And yes of course anyone who has met or spoken to "Kippers" will be very much aware that such views are widely held across all sections of the party, but to suggest that tiresome elements are exclusive to UKIP would be utter nonsense. Every creed has its cuckoo faction. One needs only think of the increasingly unhinged "Owen" Jones. Or the "Vince" Cable wing of the Liberal Democrats. Or the SNP - which like a Vulcan bomber seems increasingly to be 'all wing'.

In the 1987 election the SDP failed to live up to their early promise and merged into the Liberal Democrat and "New Labour" movements. David Owen's party had served its purpose, run its course and had its day. It is quite possible that a similar fate awaits UKIP at the General Election next year. In the meantime Mr Farage has tapped into a large reservoir of Conservative discontent. We would do well to drink from it occasionally, or our temporary Conservative schism might end in an Avignon Papacy.

And that would  be a disaster. 

1 comment:

  1. I cannot agree that it is a temporary schism. I was once a Conservative, but with every Tory lurch to the left, I was left behind. I am now somewhere comfortable and many of my Tory friends are running back to the spot on the lawn where the tent once stood.
    I will never vote Conservative again, it's not a temporary felling. I have had it, done, kaput.