The main parties’ cowed reaction to Ukip’s success is shameful

The biggest worry is not that this “Tea Party” has got so far so fast, but that it is not being challenged any more

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There is an unspoken gagging order on those of us who are not bewitched by Ukip: never say its supporters are “racist”. We are expected instead to repeat some mantras about the failures of the political classes and to understand why so many have turned to Farage. Well I don’t care for gags or this unconvincing script. Ours is still an open society. We must not be censored or pressed into a chorus of approval for what is the British version of the US Tea Party.

What happened last week was not an “earthquake”. But commentators and politicians are overreacting and behaving as if it was. The Tories are leaping like frightened foxes even more to the right, and Labour is trying to do the same. Demented Tories attack the Human Rights Act and Labour produces a flurry of punitive, incoherent policies targeting migrants. Can they not see how they humiliate themselves and fail the requirements of high office? Are they mice or men?

Neither party can ever be reactionary or intolerant enough for those who have moved on to Ukip. Douglas Carswell, the Tory who defected, won a by-election for Ukip in his constituency. He is popular and trusted by his constituents and so he was re-elected by those who voted for him previously. He also, unsurprisingly, drew some Ukip votes. Since then, pollsters have been jumping up and down with various forecasts: the party would win between 12 and 25 seats. Out of 650. Sorry, I am not losing sleep over this.

In Heywood and Middleton, Labour’s Liz McInnes won the seat, but by a smaller majority than was won by the late Jim Dobbin. This is more serious. But what has followed is part farce, part political suicide. Instead of speaking up for decent, fair values and the thousands who still voted for his party, Miliband is being forced into turning against migrants and into making promises that will make Labour seem weak, lost, insincere, inauthentic and pathetic. It needs to find strength and be more assertive. Who wants to vote for a scared party?

This is the time for the leading parties to fight back, to expose the real messages and prejudices behind the veil of respectability worn by Farage, the darling of the media. The biggest worry is not that this “Tea Party” has got so far so fast, but that it is not being challenged any more. In fact it sets the political agenda. It is possible, and necessary, to argue robustly in defence of hard-working migrants and the EU, and offer decent measures to address the real pain and feelings of dislocation suffered by millions. I have never heard a single mainstream politician ask: “How would we feel if Spain – still in recession – picked incessantly on British settlers and built political capital on this ‘problem’?” Indigenous Britons who feel their lives are hopeless need to be told that Ukip has no welfare policies. Instead it wants low taxes and an even more cut-throat jungle where only the fittest survive.

Blaming the outsider when times are hard is a common human response. But good leaders step in to temper those resentments and hatreds. And good citizens avoid picking on these easy targets. Look around you and you see British people who are at ease with diversity, getting on with people from all backgrounds. They must be ashamed of the way Ukip has been allowed to dominate our public spaces and debates. On Saturday when I was on going home on the Tube, two couples separately came up to me to say they thought migrants had made Britain a much better place to live than it once was. They were white, middle-aged and looked as if they might have come to London for a day trip from Surrey or the Cotswolds. They will never know how their words comforted me after the week we’ve had.

A good number of Ukip voters think the lager-and-ciggies man will get them out of Europe and push the bloomin’ foreigners from these isles. Imagine that day! No more Poles building and cleaning for us! Coronation Street without black or Asian people! Baristas all “real” Brits, not those offensively hard-working Indians or Spaniards! That Indian or Chinese takeaway run by good working-class white stock!

Dream on. Will they pack migrants into trains and send them off to nowhere? Repatriation has, after all, been discussed previously by party founders.

When the BNP’s Nick Griffin failed to get back into the European Parliament this May, he said: “They’ve voted for Ukip’s racist policies instead.” This party has allied itself with far-right parties in the EU. Alan Sked, a founding member who later quit, has often spoken of these links and the dark soul of this party. Carswell and other defectors are now in with this lot, stained by Ukip’s xenophobia, which will not wash off. The black and Asian members of this party are similarly misguided and disgraceful.

So I say to the main parties, don’t roll over. Cowardice is for losers. This political malignancy can only be defeated by the politics of conviction. Most Britons have not fallen for Farage. They matter too.

There’s nothing less romantic than a big, showy wedding

We knew this already but couldn’t say – for fear of being labelled party poopers or sour oldies, just jealous of the young – but the “Big Wedding” is a modern calamity. It is stupidly expensive, showy, competitive, excessively demanding, unoriginal and shallow. Priceless love now has a big, fat price-tag on it. A public declaration of devotion has been turned into a display of greed and vacuity.

Parents are pushed to fund these extravaganzas; couples really, really think that copying royal or celebrity nuptials will lead them to marital bliss. Sadly for them, such splurges lead only to a waste of hope and expectations.

The economists Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon, at Emory University in Atlanta, US, have carried out a study based on a sample of more than 3,000 people. They found that “marriage duration is inversely associated with spending on the engagement ring and wedding ceremony”.

Those who spent more than $20,000 (£12,400) on this one day were three-and-a-half times more likely to split up than those who spent around $5,000. Russell Brand and Katy Perry went off to India to get hitched in some style. Liz Hurley and Arun Nayar also chose India for the spectacle. The elephants, Maharajas’ palaces and sequins were great. What followed wasn’t.

George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin apparently spent around £8m. Eight million pounds. Well, they certainly looked gorgeous over their four days in Venice, and one hopes this couple will stay together happily forever. But such excess is not good – not for them, not for anyone. Certainly not for marriage.