Faragemania simply cannot last - these European elections will be the crest of his power

An ideological vacuum gives space for populist to rise and appeal across the spectrum

Share

The only surprise about the rise of Ukip is that anyone is surprised. The context in which party leaders make their moves is nearly always decisive. There is little that leaders can do about the wider background, and in this Thursday’s European elections David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are trapped, while Nigel Farage is as free as a bird.

For once, the three mainstream parties are all contaminated by power, or perceived to be so. Labour ruled in the recent past and was in government when the economy crashed. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took over in 2010 and led the economy towards another recession. Even if they had not done so, voters would be protesting against a ruling government.

Normally, some of the protesters would support the Liberal Democrats. This option is not available to them as Nick Clegg’s party is in power. They might have voted for the main opposition party if it had ruled so long ago that they no longer felt angry about what had happened then. The Tory soundbite about Ed Miliband and Co crashing the car when they had the keys is one of the more accessible slogans, if simplistic.

Miliband crashed the car and handed the keys to Cameron and Clegg who crashed it again. Enter Nigel Farage.

Read more: Miliband’s personal ratings fail to match those of his policies
‘Labour just makes empty promises. All I’ve got left is Ukip

Farage is the nice bloke who has never been an MP, let alone a ruler. He alone is uncontaminated by power. He enjoys adulation similar to that conferred on Nick Clegg at the last general election, but is currently even less constrained than Clegg was then. Clegg was a leader of a fully developed party and had to compromise  in the build-up to 2010 in order to  maintain unity. Farage happily disowns his party’s policies, candidates and the rest if they are inconvenient to him. He is a  leader unconstrained by politics – a  dream scenario.

In the 2010 election, Clegg was the fresh-faced outsider, the one who would save us from those hopeless orthodox politicians, who were all in it for themselves. Now Faragemania replaces Cleggmania.

Few listen to Farage very closely. There has never been a bigger gap between, on the one hand, political obsessives on Twitter who interpret every move, and, on the other, the majority of voters, who are indifferent to the twists and turns.

Those of us who follow politics closely wonder whether Farage will be damaged by his latest contortions. In an LBC interview last week the Ukip leader suggested he would be wary of living with certain Romanians as neighbours, but more relaxed if Germans moved in. Yesterday he placed a defiant advertisement in a newspaper, defending his comments.

Meanwhile, Ukip candidates make outrageous statements on a daily basis. In other parties such moments would lead to terminal crises. Farage ploughs on unperturbed. Whenever interviewers ask about comments from candidates, he shrugs them off with an almost endearing joke about all parties having their share of idiots. As far as his own comments are concerned, Farage moves on too. There he is, good old Nigel, speaking up for voters who are not listening very assiduously to the words.

Cleggmania lasted for a fortnight. Competing against parties with a recent governing past or ones that are in government now, Faragemania will last a little longer. Even so, these elections are the last that present Ukip with the perfect context. Soon the novelty will fade. Farage will be forced to make decisions about how his party fights the next general election, and the membership will come under closer scrutiny. He will become a more familiar political leader, dealing with dissenters, framing policy, answering to a wider programme. He will cease to be the wholly unconstrained outsider who has all the answers. Obviously this does not mean that the other parties can dismiss the discontent of voters. The 2008 crash exposed the weaknesses of assumptions that had shaped British economic policy since 1979. The subsequent recovery is fragile. There are huge regional disparities.

Senior figures from mainstream parties are nervous of stating clearly that there is a left/right divide. Indeed, some of them argue wrongly that there is no such division any longer. The ideological vacuum gives the space for the likes of Farage to rise and claim with some justification that he appeals to voters across the spectrum. As ever, there are big, complex challenges facing governments across Europe, with no easy answers. Individuals who appear to have easy answers flourish, but only fleetingly.

This week’s elections will be a very poor guide to what will happen in a year’s time at the general election. Dissenters from the three mainstream parties who panic will cause more damage to those parties’ election prospects than an increasingly exhausted, over-exposed, more politically orthodox Farage will be in a position to do.

Carney is right to worry about a housing market hangover

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, worries aloud about the UK’s housing crisis. He has good cause to do so. We have been here several times before. The UK’s fragile economy recovers on the back of a house price boom in the South-east. In a single overheated region, property-owners discuss how much their homes are worth today compared with the week before. Younger people struggle to buy and can hardly afford to rent.

This happened in the 1980s and 1990s. In both decades governments sought to change rules to make it easier to buy homes rather than build additional properties. In both cases there were crashes, and some owners found that they owed more than their homes were worth. Here we go again. George Osborne’s help-to-buy scheme fuels the property boom. The boom generates another precarious recovery.

One of the curious trends in British politics is for economic mistakes to be repeated even though the ministerial policy-makers know the dangers. This happened with incomes policies and stifling corporatism in the 1970s, and now applies to the reliance on a property price boom.

There will, I predict, be another crash and that will be the last ride on this particular merry-go-round. In the end even these eerie repetitive patterns come to an end. No leader proposes an incomes policy now. After this election no leader will rely again on the huge unmet demand for property to re-heat the economy.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick