My friends and family are mostly not very politicized – so shoot me now. Like many, they are largely apathetic about party politics, but stirred by single issues such as hospital closures or tuition fees.
They are horrified by the state of our education and health systems, the lack of will to clamp down on corporate tax avoidance and the inexorably widening inequality in British society. They feel powerless to do much, such is the paucity of ambition and leadership evident among our three main parties.
Suddenly, notably, Ukip has seeped into our conversations. It’s highly unlikely – particularly on my Italian side – that we descendants of immigrants would find Ukip’s policies empathetic. However, there is surprising sympathy towards those voters tempted by something new.
The underlying racism at the heart of its message is repugnant, but its visceral appeal is clear. And, if you doubt the appeal is visceral, not intellectual, listen to last week’s “car crash” LBC radio interview in which “Jack”, a Ukip supporter, couldn’t name a single Ukip policy.
For context, here are some pesky facts: 2.2 million Britons live in continental Europe, while 2.3 million other EU citizens live here. Some 77 per cent of our EU migrants work, while 72 per cent of Britons do. EU migrants form 2.1 per cent of UK welfare recipients.
However, last year there was a shock 30 per cent rise in net migration to Britain to 212,000, fuelled largely by migrants from recession-hit southern Europe. Meanwhile, only 320,000 Brits emigrated, the fewest since 2008.
Migrants form 8 per cent of the UK population (10 per cent including dependant children). An IpsosMori survey last year revealed the public thinks that figure is 31 per cent. The public also believes black and Asian ethnic groups form 30 per cent of the population when the real figure is 11 per cent (14 per cent if you factor in mixed race and other ethnic groups).
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
1/8 1993: Alan Sked forms Ukip
History professor Alan Sked had been active in anti-EU politics for a while beore he founded Ukip in 1993. He resigned from the party after the 1997 election, concerned that it was attracting far-right members, and has been critical of Ukip since. Picture: Reuters
2/8 2005: Kilroy defects
Former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk founded Veritas in 2005, after a failed bid to become leader, and took many of Ukip's elected members with him. But the party slowly lost its popularity and didn't put forward any candidates in the last election. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty REUTERS KD/RUS
3/8 2010: Farage becomes leader, again
Farage had led Ukip from 2006 until 2009, when he stood down to fight against the Speaker, John Bercow, for his Buckingham seat. He failed to win the election and returned to lead the party in November 2010. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
4/8 2010: Ukip fights for election
Nigel Farage was injured in a plane crash on polling day in the 2010 general election, but his party increased its success in the votes. It fielded 572 candidates and took 3.1% of the vote, though failed to win any seats. REUTERS/Darren Staples
5/8 2013: Eastleigh gains
Ukip's candidate Diane James got the highest ever number of votes for any candidate from the party, but was beaten by the Liberal Democrats. The surge in support gave Ukip confidence ahead of local and European elections later in the year. Picture: Reuters
6/8 2013: Bloom kicked out
Godfrey Bloom, who served as an Ukip MEP from 2004 to 2014, had the whip withdrawn in 2013 after sexist comments and an attack on a journalist. He sat as an independent MEP until 2014, when he ended his term in office. Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
7/8 2014: European election success
Ukip got a higher proportion of the vote than any other party in 2014's European elections, adding 11 new MEPs and taking its total to 24. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
8/8 2014: Carswell defects
Douglas Carswell defected from Ukip at the end of August, and was followed by Mark Reckless at the end of September, who resigned from the Tories amid rumours of many more defections to come. Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville
So how does Nigel Farage, a former City commodities trader who went to elite Dulwich College, succeed in positioning himself as an “alternative” to the ruling posh boys? It is the semblance of authenticity. Farage appears to believe what he says, however lacking in fact the message is (see above). He speaks in everyday language, appealing to voters’ hearts not heads. Plus, he downs a pint more convincingly than the others eat bacon sandwiches. This shouldn’t matter, but it does.
Contrast with the other parties’ nonsensical sloganeering: one-nation Labour AND one-nation Conservatives: both parties’ “hard-working families”, all their “tough choices”, the cringe-making race to adopt the semblance of Ukip’s message without believing it. The endless folksy anecdotes about “ordinary people” the leaders met in the park.
It is all so contrived; so transparently faux George W. Bush. The best way to put Farage back in his box is to discover your own authenticity; to display like Farage, and Alex Salmond before him, genuine leadership. If you’re going to shut hospital A&Es for example, say so and argue the case, rather than weasel and obfuscate. Don’t promise Scotland what you can’t deliver at the last minute just to win the referendum.
Of course Ukip is a protest vote. It’s a protest against Westminster-centric policies from parties you couldn’t put a sheet of tracing paper between and copycat leaders that can relate to so few of our lives. Wake up Westminster, because we are sleep-walking to catastrophe.
Stefano Hatfield is editor-in-chief of High50.comReuse content