Comment: Ukip are much easier to defeat than the Tories imagine

By Des Brown

Will Ukip capture Conservative council seats during the May 2nd elections? There are reasons to be doubtful. Despite the press frenzy around the party, their performance has not always lived up to expectations.

At the moment, it seems no more than a phantom menace.  It has no MPs, fewer council seats than the Greens and came second in a handful of by-elections the Conservatives had little or no chance of winning anyway. Even by historic standards, their performance is subdued.

Interesting fact: when the SDP was formed in 1981 as a breakaway from Labour, 28 Labour MPs eventually crossed the floor of the House and joined the new party. To date, not one Conservative MP has defected to Ukip, indicating they have no confidence in being able to win their seat at the next election under that banner.

Ukip is to the Conservatives what the far left is to Labour.  But the far left – George Galloway, Class War, the SWP etc – have never formed together to create a true party of the left.  The Labour party doesn't court their votes, and nor should the Conservatives feel they have to court the Ukip vote rather look to consigning them to the same sort of electoral obscurity.

Here is the key to understanding Ukip in the council elections and in 2015 general election.  It is something which Andrew Rawnsley wrote in The Observer on April 21st indicating the nature of Ukip supporters and the quicksand on which their vote is built. 

One senior party strategist says he listened in some wonderment as his focus group of Ukip voters spent an entire 90-minute session wailing and gnashing their teeth about the state of Britain. Not a good word did they have to say about the country today. At the end of the session, he thanked them for their time, and said he had one more question. Was there anything about Britain that made them feel proud? There was a silence. Then one man leant forward and said: "The past." The rest of the group nodded in agreement.

Ukip is really just a coalition of the angry and paranoid.  Most of its 'supporters' don't like Britain and Ukip attracts them like a horse attracts flies.  Their shortcoming needs little deciphering: you'll find that by the time of the next election much of their support will have gone AWOL – half will have emigrated and the other half will not bother to vote. 

UKIP's horrible closed door policy, which sees the UK both out of the EU and shutting out any further immigration, is miserable and inward looking. It is abetted by poisonous prose and a lot of misinformation which colours the debate, but it can explained very simply – it's an affront to them that anyone would want to come and settle in a country they so don't have a good word for. 

But the paradox of the immigration debate is that everyone's story is different and personal. It is a narrative with many strands that cannot be generalised and Conservatives can use these stories to their advantage.

Evgeny Lebedev has lived in England since he was a child. Born in Russia, came to London as a diplomat's son – his father Alexander worked at the Soviet Embassy. He is now chairman and owner of the Evening Standard, Independent and Independent on Sunday. Mo Farah, too, was eight when he decamped to London, but as refugee from the war in Somali. Last year – as a member of Team GB – Farah draped himself in the Union flag after winning Olympic Gold in the Men's 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters.  Both became naturalized British subjects and both made a contribution to national life.

This is what makes Ukip's disconcerting and messy anger in this day and age truly bizarre. Less 'give me your poor and huddled masses' and more 'there's nothing for you here' – treating incomers in search of a better life like a farmer with a shotgun threatening trespassers on his land. Immigration is neither a good nor bad thing, it is simply a fact of life in a globalised world and in a single European market. That's why an Englishman – Mark Thompson – is the CEO of The New York Times and why a Canadian – Mark Carney – is the new governor of the Bank of England

It's when those leaving outstrip those entering that the alarm bells should ring (though, as mentioned, it's Ukip supporters who will probably always be first in the queue to quit).

The Conservatives aren't teetering on the brink – the brink isn't until 2015.  Back in the autumn, when Cameron delivered his party conference speech it was imbued with affirmations of his patriotism (this was delivered in front of a red, white and blue Union flag backdrop), calling Britain "the greatest country on Earth". It ticked all the boxes.  And there is the key.

There's no great socio-cultural-political explanation for Boris Johnson's popularity, other than he's entertaining to listen to and full of boundless enthusiasm and optimism which people respond to.   Ukip often seem bad-tempered and seem to dislike large swathes of the British population and the country.   Listening to Johnson speak he's characteristically ebullient, delivering the same sort of attention grabbing speech that Michael Heseltine used to deliver at the conference back in the 1990s. As the cliché goes, he can 'rally the faithful' in the way American presidential candidates often excel at but is elusive to some British Conservatives.   Alex Salmond is the same, with his relentlessly upbeat vision of an independent Scotland.

People respond positively to positive people – it really is as simple as that. Positivity is Ukip's Achilles' heel.

Des Brown is a blogger behind Be Not Afeard the Isle is Full of Noises, about the cultural, social and political life of Great Britain.  He also writes for the Newcastle Free Press and The Moscow Times.

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