Could Britain throw a Tea Party as well?
The success of the US political movement has prompted talk of a domestic equivalent. The search is on for our Sarah Palin...
Tea, the poet William Cowper observed, is "the cup that cheers". Unless you're an American, in which case it's a symbol of oppression worth hurling into the Atlantic.
In Britain, tea parties are occasions associated not with revolution but with the aroma of Earl Grey, the gentle clink of china and mad hatters.
The talk on the British right wing yesterday was of the stirring of a new popular alliance inspired by the grassroots right-wing Tea Party movement that has swept America.
Tea Party candidates will stand in the next election in Britain – so predicts Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of The Sun – and the shock jock Jon Gaunt has announced his entry into politics at the head of an EU referendum campaign.
In Britain, as in the US, a grassroots constituency feels ignored by mainstream politics and is intolerant of big government. Its members share a desire for lower rates of taxation, although in the UK campaigners' ire is directed as much at perceived over-interference by the European Union as at the dominance of the British state. Libertarian views do not generally extend to a belief in the benefits of immigration.
Similarities are drawn between the American movement – whose symbolic leader is Sarah Palin – and the emerging network of libertarian and protest groups on the British right, ranging from the TaxPayers' Alliance and Young Britons' Foundation to the Release Britain from Brussels group.
Brits jumping on the bandwagon include the death-defying Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, which polled almost a million votes in the general election, the hard-boiled Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, and the commentator Richard Littlejohn, who sees the Tea Party's constituents as "small business owners, lawyers, housewives".
"It's no longer about party politics and left and right," declared Gaunt. "There's a lot of disaffected people out there. On Question Time I'm the one who gets the most cheers because I'm independent of any party."
Gaunt, who was sacked by the radio network TalkSport for calling a local councillor a Nazi, said the broadcasting sector was also failing to reach a disenfranchised group. "Radio stations are conservative and many people are scared of me, which is a shame. There's no one in Britain that can get people reacting the way I do."
Another populist radio presenter, Nick Ferrari of LBC in London, suggested that his former tabloid newspaper colleague Mr MacKenzie, along with the former Home Office minister and star of Strictly Come Dancing Ann Widdecombe, would make an effective joint leadership of a British Tea Party.
"Kelvin has an extraordinary touchstone with his readers, he always has, and that fantastic ability to show he is not 'one of them'," said Ferrari.
"With Ann Widdecombe, she can't dance to save her life but she has huge popularity." Mr MacKenzie, a Sun columnist, did not immediately seize the mantle, suggesting that Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, would make a strong leader of a British movement in favour of the small state and low taxation. "Why wouldn't Boris Johnson do it? With the exception of his Kosovan view of housing benefit in upscale neighbourhoods, I would have thought in all other respects he would have had a pretty normal reaction."
Mr MacKenzie said mainstream politicians were fearful of the notion of a popular grassroots movement such as the Tea Party. "I think there will be Tea Party candidates over here in various elections, possibly council elections," he said, "but in all honesty I don't see them doing all that well.
"My problem in the UK is I can't see the number of people who would be of quality to stand. Have we got people who, when they were tested and we looked into their background, we would want to follow?"
Mrs Palin has admiringly branded some of the Tea Party's firebrand female candidates with the ferocious tag "mama grizzlies", but in a nation of pet lovers the cat-loving Ms Widdecombe might be more resonant. Gaunt has identified as an ally the combative campaigner and mother Jo Clearly, who ran a Facebook campaign against the march through Wootton Basset by the radical group Islam4UK and has now set up Release Britain from Brussels.
There is no pretence to unity within the British right. Littlejohn says of Ms Widdecombe, for instance: "Once spoken of as a future Home Secretary, she is now reduced to swinging from a trapeze on Strictly Come Dancing, like one of the cartoon hippos in The Jungle Book."
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