It may be a strange thing to say, but last night’s English council elections, and the advances made by Ukip, should provide great encouragement for those of us who want the diverging interests and needs of Wales and England put into sharper focus.
Most of Ukip’s votes seem to have come from disillusioned Conservatives, but neither Labour nor Lib Dem voters are immune to Ukip’s appeal. There are a number of reasons for this, not least that those who sit in Westminster have not been so distanced from us, the common herd, for almost two hundred years. Which might be accepted if they were perceived to be honest, competent and capable. They are not. Add to a distant and incompetent government an uninspiring opposition, an economic recession, a growing sense that the English are treated shabbily both at home and abroad, and Ukip was almost guaranteed to succeed. (Nick Griffin and what’s left of the BNP must be ruing the fact that if they could only have shaken off the skinhead-thicko-racist image then much of Ukip’s success could have been theirs. But with one foot in the English gutter and the other in the Third Reich they never had a chance.)
Seeing as these were exclusively English local elections (the only election in Wales being Ynys Môn, returning to the democratic fold) why am I even writing about it? Because . . . Ukip success could be excellent news for those of us who understand that what is promoted as ‘consensus’ invariably results in us Welsh being screwed. I’m also writing this to counter the responses of the Left in Wales, patriotic or otherwise, who detest Ukip so much that they blind themselves to the potential advantages to Wales, and just fall in with the Guardianista Left in throwing up their hands and wailing, ‘Isn’t it just awful!’
So what are these ‘advantages’ I’m talking about? Ukip is an English nationalist party; to pretend it’s anything else is dishonest. As dishonest as the party itself using ‘UK’ in its name. For Ukip’s UK is nothing but Greater England. The party’s attitude to us and the Scots is, ‘We’ll get along just fine as long as you do as we tell you’. Which may not sound too promising for us Welsh, but consider these possibilities.
Ideological politics has been dying a slow death in the UK and Wales for over twenty years. The process began with the deposing of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 and was completed with the creation of New Labour a few years later. All parties – Plaid Cymru included – then piled into the centre ground with the result that a ‘consensus’ was arrived at based on the suppression of ideology, the belief that endlessly repackaging money could be the basis of a national economy, and allowing oneself to be carried along by those taking us towards a new world order. Throw an economic recession into the mix and it begins to explain how a party of golf club bigots could become the hottest thing in English politics.
No matter what the major parties may be saying publicly, they know that Ukip’s strength is growing because an increasing number of English voters no longer trust Labour or Conservatives to deliver; first, on ‘Europe’ (i.e. pulling out); and then on ‘immigration’ (i.e. allowing far fewer immigrants). To reassure these people – and more importantly, to regain their votes – both major parties will have to shift their positions on the two issues. But it won’t end there. For being essentially an English nationalist party Ukip also resents the money ‘wasted’, and the concessions made, to Scotland and Wales. It will insist that funding to both countries be cut, perhaps even that devolution be abolished. Or maybe Ukip will demand a parliament for England. For don’t expect subtlety, or carefully-considered policies; expect more of what will appeal to existing and potential Ukip voters.
Which means that what really matters is how this English return to gut-instinct politics will be received in Wales. All parties in the Assembly are agreed that devolution is here to stay. And I believe they mean it. Which could put both Labour and Conservative parties on course for confrontation with their London masters if the latter harden their positions towards Wales in order to fight off the Ukip threat. Perhaps more important than the positions of the political parties is the attitude of the Welsh people; for they are now overwhelmingly supportive of devolution and would strongly resent any ‘English’ interference. Which is not to say that Ukip would not have support in Wales if it tried to force a London government into abolishing the Welsh Assembly. (Let’s remember that one of our four MEPs is from Ukip.) But we know where most of that support would come from; it would expose a divide that many would prefer to keep papered over.
The growing strength of Ukip, and its influence on both Conservatives and Labour, can only be good for our cause. Because it will alienate so many of our people and make them want to erect ‘defences’ against an increasingly selfish and xenophobic England. Leaving our politicians with little alternative but to follow suit (if they wish to persist in their collective delusion of being our ‘leaders’). So ignore the outraged moaners of the Left; England moving to the Right and prioritising her national interests would be wonderful news . . . because it would provoke a sizeable section of our nation into rethinking the relationship with England. So stuff consensus . . . radical change invariably comes from conflict or confrontation. Wales needs radical change. Keep up the good work, Nige!