I expected a certain amount of hostility when I raised the issue of turnout at the Campaign for Independent Britain meeting yesterday. But when I pointed out that the vote was shrinking, suggesting that this contradicted claims of a popular movement "on the march", I got a general murmur of agreement.
To judge by some reaction though, while Farage is to lauded for his "plain speaking" and "straight talking", that same freedom should be denied to anyone wishing to look beyond the media hype.
Even Autonomous Mind is enjoined to get behind "the only team in town" and to "stop the continual sniping at UKIP". The anointed one's party, it seems, must be exempted from the normal process of critical analysis, as we bow down and hail the stupendous victory of The Great Leader.
Actually, though, Booker is right. He sees in the "surge" for the Farage Pothole Party not any great support for the party itself, but a reaction to the behaviour of the political classes – a Europe-wide reaction which is reflected in the growth of dissident parties in Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and elsewhere.
In some senses, it perpetuates the continued degradation of the voting system, which is supposed – in theory – to pick the best individual candidate to represent the voters in their areas. In some cases we have seen elected "paper" candidates with no political experience, representing a party which has no track record in local government.
In other words, the vote was not so much for UKIP as against the political classes, something which was picked up by Martin Hill, the Conservative leader of Lincolnshire county council. He acknowledges that UKIP has successfully "plugged in" to this issue of EU migrants. Unease about this social change has been worsened by a feeling that Westminster is not listening to voters or speaking their language, particularly in rural areas, he suggests.
"People feel there is a political elite a bit divorced from ordinary people", Hill adds. "On the doorstep, it wasn’t the policies, it was about the feeling of the disconnect".
This distinction is incredibly important when it comes to trying to understand the nature of the processes we are witnessing, which are otherwise swamping by the media chatter which is no more accurate nor perceptive than it ever has been.
Crucially, we see in the response to Farage, renewed calls for a referendum, and even the idea of a "mandate referendum". This some Conservatives MPs want as early as next May, in which the public will be asked whether they want the government to negotiate a "new relationship with the EU based on trade and political co-operation".
Slated as a "UKIP killer", if this gathers a head of steam, it is very dangerous for the eurosceptic movement as a whole.
To reject the very idea of such a referendum invites the claim that people are not interested in "Europe", to refuse a mandate is to suggest that we are happy with the way things are, and to vote "yes" gives the prime minister a spurious authority for something he can't do anyway.
On the other hand, the very last thing we want is an "in-out" referendum - which we would be certain to lose, setting back the movement for a generation. If Mr Cameron had any sense, he would offer just that, calling Farage's bluff and lancing the boil.
And it is here that the criticism of Farage is strongest - and rightly so. Ten years ago, many of us were arguing with the man that UKIP needed to develop a credible exit plan.
Ten wasted years later, the party still does not have a credible exit plan. Furthermore, last Thurday's "success" brings us no closer to getting one. Nor indeed does the party have a strategic plan to secure our withdrawal from the EU – other than perhaps getting the anointed one to Number 10 where he can wave a magic wand and lead us to the sunlit uplands.
Yet, to point out that a possible (and likely) outcome of Farage's long-term dereliction is to lead us blindly into a referendum contest that we cannot possibly win is seen by is growing band of acolytes as heresy and even worse.
But, without a plan, without a strategy, we lose. Farage's disparate bunch of amateurs are up against real professionals. Confronted with the might of the media, the political establishment, the wealth of corporate business and the power of the EU, our chances of winning a referendum always were slight. For all the energy and funds expended on the Farage folly, all we might have achieved is one step closer to annihilation.
In my next post, therefore, I will sketch out the bones of a plan, offering ideas of how we can actually go about getting ourselves out of the EU, ideas which I set out to the CIB yesterday.
Photograph courtesy of David Wilkinson, with thanks
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I will be in London today talking to the Campaign for an Independent Britain, on the general subject of "the way forward" for euroscepticism.
It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that my list of things we must have in order successfully to secure an exit from the EU does not include the Farage Party, which is more and more looking like a cul-de-sac. And in a subliminal message which affirms that, we see the front page of the Daily Mail (left) where any news of the "great victory" is remarkably absent.
Unfashionable it may be to say in certain quarters, but to attract the support of 6-8 percent of the electorate in council elections (and 9.4 percent in a by-election) is not evidence of a wildly successful popular campaign. And this is less so when, with each passing election, the pool of engaged voters steadily diminishes, as evidenced by the declining turnouts.
As we have remarked before, the obsession with share of the vote, where turnout is in free fall, has the hallmarks of two bald men fighting over a comb – although it is more like a gang of people squabbling over its possession.
It is perhaps appropriate, therefore, that the newspaper that makes the greatest front-page display of the Farage Party success is the loss-making Guardian. This left-wing newspaper is only too well aware that the only way of resuscitating the flagging Labour campaign is to big-up UKIP in the hope of damaging the Conservative Party.
Therein lies an uncomfortable truth. However, much it may protest otherwise, at its current level of support, when it has absorbed the transferable votes from the BNP, arising from the collapse of another one-man-band, by far the greater bulk of UKIP's support comes from disaffected Conservatives.
Come the general election, which is the only election which matters to the political claque, the Left will certainly be egging on the "party of protest" in the expectation that it will continue to do disproportionate damage to the Right.
And, confronted with the challenge, Mr Cameron's Conservatives will do whatever it takes to neutralise the threat. For, if Farage has succeeded in anything, he has certainly got the attention of the political classes.
The ironic thing is that the most immediate outcome of grabbing the Guardian front page is one of two possibilities – either the election of the Labour Party to office in the 2015 general election (with or without the Lib-Dems), or resurgent Conservatives who will most likely offer as the bribe to restore their fortunes an EU referendum that we cannot possibly win.
I would find this latter even doubly ironic – for UKIP to force upon the nation a referendum for which it is wholly unprepared, where it would be completely outflanked, then to saddle us with a lost vote which will set the eurosceptic movement back a generation.
But then, whatever else, Farage has never included amongst his attributes anything approaching tactical acumen or strategic planning. Right now, though, his dogged pursuit of a twenty-year-old game plan might now look on the threshold of a breakthrough. But the truth is that it has no better chance of success now than when he first scribbled it on the back of a beer-soaked bar mat, at the end of a boozy planning session.
Perhaps that "plan" emanated from the Grand Old Duke of York pub, because Farage is marching his troops to the top of the hill. Too soon, he will be marching them down again, back into the intellectual cul-de-sac from which his "cunning plan" originated.
And that is what I will be telling the CIB today, plus a few more home truths. Those views won't necessarily be welcome, but I suspect there may be a few there capable of straight thinking and I won't have to make a quick dash for the exit. We shall see.
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