The local elections were a twitch, not a convulsion

If the Ukip surge sent the conventional parties a message, they do not seem to have heard it


That was not much of an earthquake. Even if the UK Independence Party breaks records in tonight's declaration of the European Parliament results, last week's elections were more of a national twitch than a convulsion against the political establishment.

The turnout in the local elections was higher than last year – 36 per cent against 31 per cent – and we should be grateful for small democratic mercies, but it was hardly a national mobilisation. More importantly, Ukip's share of the vote in the local elections was down by a quarter on last year, which suggests that, however spectacular the party's showing is in tonight's European results, Nigel Farage's insurgency may already be waning.

None of which is to deny the strength of feeling against politics as usual: merely to say that Ukip may not be the best vehicle for expressing it. The Independent on Sunday shares many of the frustrations that people feel about professional politicians: their lack of experience of life outside the bubble; their formulaic way of speaking; and their occasional taking of the voters for fools. But the record of Ukip MEPs on expenses is not one that inspires confidence that they are ambassadors for a new, more open and honest politics.

What is frustrating is the unwillingness of the conventional parties to learn. If the Ukip surge sent them a message, they do not seem to have heard it. Only last week, late in the afternoon on Friday, the day on which the local ballots were counted, the Government released 152 documents, including the lists of those entertained by the Prime Minister at Chequers, his publicly funded country home, and details of gifts and hospitality received by cabinet ministers. As far as we can tell, there was nothing particularly embarrassing in the releases, but this instinctive attempt to bury potentially awkward information reflects poorly on the Government.

Indeed, it is hard to say whether it is more insulting to the public to sneak out information at a time when journalists are least able or likely to scrutinise it, or to refuse to publish a separate list of guests who attended Chequers, on the grounds that they were entertained out of Conservative Party funds. If David Cameron has nothing to hide, why can we not know about it?

The Prime Minister, who once spoke persuasively of transparency and of accountability to the court of public opinion, seems to have relapsed into the bad old ways when he thought no one was looking.

Nor is it just him. He and Ed Miliband both said at one point that they would be happy to publish their income tax returns. It turned out that they were using "happy" in its special, political sense, in which it means "absolutely not if I can help it". It may be that publishing tax returns would be a step too far, as un-British as publishing the medical records of US presidential candidates, but, if that is what people believe, let them argue their case instead of pretending otherwise.

The voters can detect pretence and that is one of the reasons why Mr Farage cuts through (although it was also the reason the Ukip leader nearly came unstuck when he squirmed evasively on the question of why people should be worried about Romanians but not Germans). Mr Miliband committed a notable crime against authenticity last week when he plainly had no idea how much his family spent on food but, instead of just saying so, pretended he knew and got it wrong.

In all the talk of changing party leaders after the elections, on which our political team reports today, the parties have to understand one thing. Let us have political leaders who can be themselves, use normal language and be open with people.

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