Despite appearances, it’s Miliband, not Farage, who’s breaking with tradition and upsetting the status quo

If voters want more of the same they must choose between Farage and Cameron

 

Share

There is a striking disparity between the perception of two party leaders and the policies they espouse. Nigel Farage triumphs as the anti-establishment outsider, challenging orthodoxies and fuelling the anti-politics mood of which he is a beneficiary. Meanwhile, suffering poor personal ratings, Ed Miliband is viewed as part of the loathed Westminster establishment, a former minister who has spent most of his life in politics.

Such perceptions are easily formed. Farage has never been a minister. He has no record to defend. He is not an MP at Westminster. Miliband was briefly a TV producer on a political programme before becoming a special adviser at Westminster. He has worked at Westminster ever since.

On Sunday, Andrew Marr’s BBC show staged an illuminating sequence, one that showed how easily formed perceptions are misleading. There was an interview with Farage followed by one with Miliband. Finally, the two sat together and had a mini-debate. What became clear was how much Farage is a product of the Thatcherite 1980s, at least as much as David Cameron and George Osborne. Indeed I suspect if Margaret Thatcher were still active she would be a fan of Ukip, or at least urging Cameron to be more Ukip-like. Her voice is not required in that respect because Cameron is to some extent dancing to Ukip’s tunes. He does so partly out of fear, but also because there is quite a lot on which he and Farage agree.

Both men are small-state economic liberals, except in relation to immigration. Farage supports a so-called flat tax, one rate of tax on all earners. Osborne’s first move as shadow Chancellor in 2005 was to declare his interest in a flat tax, a support that faded only when the likes of The Economist dismissed the idea as being too right-wing.

Farage wants a smaller state. The essence of Cameron and Osborne’s economic policies has been to regard the state as the cause of the crash in 2008, in the form of too much public spending. They too seek a smaller, less active state. As Cameron declared at the beginning of his leadership, there IS such a thing as society but it is not the same as the state – an elegant reworking of Thatcherism.

Miliband and Farage were something of a novelty on Marr. What also became clear in the programme was the degree to which Miliband seeks a break with current orthodoxies. While Cameron, the 1980s free marketer, stands back as Pfizer proposes to take over AstraZeneca, Miliband proposes intervention. This is not merely opportunism on his behalf. His belief that government can make positive interventions is the essential dividing line at the next election.

Since 1979, orthodoxy insists that the state is always stifling, that it wrecks markets. On the whole this remains the instinct of Farage, Cameron and some of the more extreme Blairites.

On the other side of this divide there is Miliband, Michael Heseltine, John Major (at least in relation to the energy market), Vince Cable, and more rounded Blairites like Alan Johnson, who in an interview yesterday, urged Miliband to propose a wider range of interventions.

Their advocacy of state intervention would be mainstream in most equivalent countries. As Miliband said on Sunday, there is no other government that would sit back and let a significant takeover happen without getting involved. In the UK, Miliband’s arguments mark a big leap.

Of course, Farage seeks to leap out of Europe, and Cameron pledges an in/out referendum that could also lead to such a big jump, but these two positions are also a consequence of 1980s and 1990s-style politics, an assumption that the EU is to blame for virtually everything.

I have argued before that it is tempting to follow the personalities rather than the policy trail – good old Nigel with his pint and cigarette; emollient Dave. When Miliband tries to look like the outsider, addressing small groups with a loudspeaker in town centres, he looks silly. He reinforces a sense that he is an insider uncomfortable with a more challenging environment. When Farage does the same he seems the perfect fit, one of “us” raging against the political consensus.

But follow the more important policy trail and Farage moves closer to the consensus. Harold Macmillan’s policies were well to the left of Cameron’s. In policy terms, if voters want more of the same they must choose between Farage and Cameron. Perhaps a majority of voters in England will opt for variations of that status quo.

But in policy terms there is only one candidate for significant change and it is not Farage.

Politics and ‘24’. It’s all the same...

A new series of 24 starts this week, set in London rather than the US. Once again the hero, Jack Bauer, will face impossible dilemmas every hour. In an earlier series, Bauer had to decide whether to shoot his wife and save the world, or save his wife but destroy the world. I seem to remember he shot his wife.

The series is a huge global hit. The appeal of the much less popular art of politics is precisely the same as the attractions of 24. Both are about nerve-racking dilemmas that require near instant resolution. The attempts to reach resolution can trigger consequences that lead to greater dangers.

Early on when Tony Blair was Prime Minister I asked him what, in essence, his new job was like. He replied: “Each day I face decisions which can be summarised as, ‘Do I cut my throat or slit my wrists?’”

There were no easy answers. Each decision brought further problems, and this was long before Blair had to decide what to do when it was clear President Bush wanted to invade Iraq – an unavoidable political nightmare for him whatever route he chose. The high-stakes dilemmas of a very human vocation mean that quite often leaders face days like those experienced by Jack Bauer.

A friend has worked on the new series and tells me that it is as addictive as the previous ones. Fans of 24 would love politics if they gave it a chance.

@steverichards14

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Behaviour Support Work

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Behaviour Support WorkerThe JobTo...

English Teacher, Aylesford School

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is working in...

EBD LSA required - Vale of Glamorgan

£60 - £65 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The J...

EBD Teacher - Food Technology Specialist

£100 - £181 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: The JobTo plan and deliver all ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis  

Russell Brand's incoherent and scattergun approach to politics is Revolution as play

James Bloodworth
Tory whips have warned the Prime Minister that he could face a Tory revolt over the European arrest warrant  

A bizarre front for the Tories’ campaign against Europe

Nigel Morris
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker