Before we all get too carried away with Ukip’s performance on Thursday, let us not forget some key facts.
First, these elections were held in the Tory shires; the metropolitan areas did not vote. Second, the turnout was low; two thirds of voters did not turn out. Given the strength of feeling of Ukip supporters and the make-up of the electorate, it is far from clear that the party would poll as well among remaining voters. Third, there is a general sense of malaise leading to a need to protest. Despite all these factors, three quarters of people still did not vote for Ukip.
Up to now, Nigel Farage has had an easy ride, spreading his simplistic message of not liking foreigners or gay people, not believing that climate change is happening, and that we just need to click our heels together three times and we’ll be back in the 1950s.
Those of us who live in the interconnected, globalised, real world know that isolationism is the route to economic disaster. It is time for us to scrutinise Ukip’s policies and to ensure that people understand just how divisive, dishonest and damaging they are.
Your breakdown of how the country voted last week showed that Ukip’s biggest gains were in Lincolnshire (4 May). What it didn’t show is that most of the party’s 16 gains were in two clusters on the eastern periphery of the county, with half the total coming from the Boston and Skegness areas. Indeed, Boston alone accounted for five county council seats for Ukip.
If one takes the East Midlands as a whole, Nottinghamshire voted in not one Ukip candidate, while neighbouring Leicestershire voted in just two. So, as far as this region is concerned, the bulk of Ukip’s support is confined to just a handful of peripheral areas on the edge of Lincolnshire, with its highest concentration of County Council seats being in the town – Boston – where Ukip has played a prominent part in demonstrations against migrant EU workers.
In other words, there is not widespread support for Ukip even in Lincolnshire, but only a few hotbeds where agitation by Ukip has proved effective because of the high number of workers from other EU countries.
It would be helpful to know whether this pattern is replicated in other counties. We haven’t yet had enough detail on where Ukip support is located.
Professor David Head
Before political pundits and others get over-excited analysing Thursday’s election results, they might reflect that nine out of every 10 people who had the opportunity to vote Ukip didn’t take it. Most of us didn’t even vote, and who can blame us?
Local authorities’ powers have been whittled away for three decades and more by central governments of all stripes. Many eager new councillors may soon find that they have little real influence over anything more significant than the colour of recycling bins or the shape of residents’ parking permits. The same is increasingly true for national governments, boxed in as they are by global agreements and powerful multinational institutions.
Our democracy is a precious thing, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that, in or out of the EU, our little island nowadays has very much genuine freedom of action.
The examples we have of countries which try to isolate themselves from global influences are not encouraging. We may grumble about the state of our state but few would swap places with a North Korean.
So this is democracy?
Out of the 84 Norfolk county councillors who “won” their seats, only nine received more votes than were cast against them. Of the remainder, nine others were actually out-voted by a ratio of two to one – yet still emerged as “winners”.
This mockery of a system undermines any belief in “the will of the people”. If ever there was a case made for proportional representation, by single transferable vote, this was it.
Ukip’s success serves the old parties right. For decades they have been pandering to the Europhobic media and have consistently failed to counter the propaganda and misinformation against the EU. They have suppressed pro-European views and highlighted the negative. Ukip is only doing the same – but more convincingly.
Victims of Stuart Hall’s disgrace
The disgrace of Stuart Hall is a tragedy for three constituencies. Obviously for his victims, who have had to live their lives in the shadow of the emotional and physical burglary he inflicted on them. Obviously for himself – that a man with such joie de vivre should lose his moral compass so horrendously is a tragedy in itself.
And less obviously, it’s also a tragedy for the intellectual sports fan. I am one of the many people who love football and for whom Stuart Hall’s contributions to Sports Report were always stimulating, even on those occasions when he missed the mark more than he hit it.
I sincerely hope the art of bringing everything from Shakespeare to Socrates into football reporting won’t die with his self-inflicted demise.
Ringmer, East Sussex
I find Brian Viner’s article (4 May) on Stuart Hall rather bizarre. I have asked a number of friends about the Seventies and the consensus is as I thought.
We all thought that Savile, Glitter, Hall et al were weird and couldn’t understand why anyone saw them in any other way. We couldn’t stand them then and are in no way shocked or surprised by what has happened.
Netherthong, West Yorkshire
US gun madness
Which of the following facts is the most depressing?
A boy is given a gun for his fifth birthday. He kills his two-year-old sister with it. The grandmother says: “It was God’s will. It was her time to go, I guess”.
Difficult to say, isn’t it?
It seems odd that Chris Bryant should use your columns to question whether Jesse Norman “is quite as bright as they say” (4 May), and then define a “classical philosophical mistake” as a “syllogism”, which is actually a term for a classical philosophical deduction.
Did the Governor of the Bank of England really mean to write “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” on his new £5 note?
Malcolm J C Addison
How the Church welcomes single people
You report new research claiming that single Christians feel “isolated, alone and lonely” within their churches (25 April). This result was perhaps not a surprise given this was a self-selecting survey among the users of a Christian dating website.
Wider research provides a different view. A study by the University of Wisconsin published in the American Sociological Review suggested that only 15 per cent of those who attended services identified as having “no close friends” at church. In contrast, those attending even on a semi-regular basis responded that friendships made within church were a factor in having greater life satisfaction.
However, with the Church of England alone conducting 1,000 marriages a week and 2,000 christenings a week, it is unsurprising that families remain a strong feature of church life.
A “Christian” dating agency does a survey of 2,754 singles who are not happy with the way their congregation treats them; and this is yet another “crisis” for the churches? My experience of over 40 years as a parish priest in the Church of England leads me to suspect that someone has come up with some very dodgy conclusions on very scanty evidence.
When the church talks about, and concentrates on, the family, it is not primarily talking about the supposed nuclear family of father, mother and 2.4 children. It is talking about the church family, the congregation, and the widely varying needs and aspirations of all its members. About half of these will be married couples, with and without children. The other half will be people in different relationships, and people on their own. Looking back over the congregations I have tried to serve over the years, I would say that these proportions have been roughly the same wherever I have been.
My observation of single members of my congregation has always been that the vast majority of them are very deeply involved in leadership in various fields of church activity, and have had no difficulty whatsoever in feeling themselves members of the church family. Of course, there are always a few people who scuttle off the minute a service is over, who never make any attempt to get to know other members of the congregation, or to make themselves known. That’s their privilege, and I respect anyone’s right to privacy. But please don’t use it as an excuse to criticise the whole church for being too family-orientated.
West Wittering, Chichester
Dutch example of abdication
With the abdication of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, it is perhaps natural that people like the commentator Anne McElvoy and John Harvey (letter, 1 May) should argue that abdication should become a regular practice of our own monarchy, although I doubt that there is any demand for this among the population at large.
The Dutch monarchy is quite different from ours: their first King, William I, became King in 1815, whereas our monarchy can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon period; our monarch is crowned and anointed, and has been for centuries: theirs is not.
The Dutch monarch is more like a non-executive president than ours, and I do not believe that our monarchy can be guided by purely utilitarian considerations.