It’s been fascinating to see Ukip supposedly on the back foot for a change. Negative headlines and a defection make for a serious challenge to Nigel Farage’s relatively serene ride on to the national stage. Or, do they?
First up, Amjad Bashir defected to the Tories, and then the Ukip party secretary Matthew Richardson claimed that the party “should represent bigots”.
Disastrous stuff? Or was it? The two anti-Ukip stories in the pro-Conservative Mail on Sunday and Sunday Times certainly got picked up by the rest of the media, beginning with the Andrew Marr Show. They seemed suspiciously coincidental, as if timed to derail Ukip’s momentum. But, far from being hammer blows, there is another way of looking at them: to supporters and swing voters they form part of an anti-Ukip agenda that belongs to the old world order of politics that is presumptuous to the point of utter condescension about the electorate.
The Ukip story didn’t touch the sides of the events I attended over the weekend: a big south London family party and a massive schools’ netball tournament, also in Croydon, where I grew up.
At the latter, an almost exclusively middle-class event, attended by people who might have read The Sunday Times or The MoS, it was notable how few actually had. No one cared a jot about the defection. None had watched Andrew Marr.
Of those that could muster an opinion, the initial “well that’s Ukip skewered. Every time they open their mouths they shoot themselves in the foot” soon gave way to a reflective “Or is that just wishful thinking?” Yes, I’m afraid it is.
As Gordon Brown discovered infamously to his cost, one person’s “bigot” is another person’s angry voter who feels ignored.
The challenge facing politicians of mainstream parties is to stop underestimating the voting public’s frustration with the status quo, its mood for change and unwillingness to be told how to vote. Or to put it more bluntly: a condescending elite needs to stop patronising us all and start listening.
Stefano Hatfield is editor in chief of High50Reuse content