The UK Independence Party has now secured two parliamentary seats in the space of a few weeks, effectively setting them to be the key power broker in the next election.
What has been most surprising is the general meekness and kow-towing of the main parties to UKIP’s stance on the EU and immigration. They could, in various ways, have exerted their own respective policies and opinions stating why UKIP’s reforms are wrong, short-sighted and inimical to the country’s best interests. Instead both Tories and Labour have sunk into a debate in which their rhetoric will fail to match their convictions and record in policy thus far; the assumption being that the public already have their minds made up, turning this much-vaunted ‘debate’ on immigration into a political monologue.
In their weakest attempts to rebuff claims made by ‘kippers’, Farage and his party are now presented as some sort of heroine in a romantic movie; coming to save its desperate and lonely beau from further despair: Along Came UKIP. However the British public are not a wayward and desolate Ben Stiller in this all too real story, and UKIP is not a reassuring ex-classmate in the shape of Jennifer Aniston. In allowing this sentiment to foster unabated, both parties have actually forgone a serious mature debate on immigration, as any attempts to defend E.U and Brussels along with the benefits of migration run too close to a volte-face and appear to be out of step with popular opinion.
In the run-up to the Scottish referendum, many Scots bemoaned the lack of clear information on the respective advantages and disadvantages of a Yes/No vote; a refreshing willingness to admit having insufficient knowledge on the issue, and demanding better communication served to enhance democratic engagement. No such utterances surround the debate on the E.U, it is either a monstrous bureaucracy usurping Britain’s democratic freedom and sovereignty, or a bellwether for a more progressive and prosperous Europe conducive to this country’s best interests. There is no shame in asking for shades of grey in a debate marked by a simplistic dichotomy which does more to obscure reality than clarify it.
A large part of UKIP’s success in the two recent by-elections is their seeming courage of conviction in a political world so terribly bereft of it. In response, Labour has announced (should they win the next election) that it will impose a minimum two-year wait before E.U migrants are entitled to benefits in this country whilst David Cameron set out a four-year qualifying period before welfare entitlements to any in-work benefits can be claimed. Additionally, politicians have been waxing lyrical about tackling ‘benefit tourism’, as supposedly it is a tide submerging this country.
One can only imagine what goes through the head of an EU migrant worker; they are either scorned for taking British jobs or vilified for pilfering welfare benefits. A sensible debate about the exact numbers of net migration this country can withstand in light of its own high unemployment rate, along with what exact reforms can be bought about to tackle it, is yet to take place. If UKIP’s ascent was supposed to bring these debates about then the lazily handled and ill-considered approach of both parties has only made it less likely to ever occur.
More’s the pity. In the run up to the next election come May 2015, the electorate deserves a clearer picture of what they stand to lose and gain from UKIP’s proposals. With the obsession over party disunity following recent Tory defections to UKIP and Labour MP Emily Thornberry’s twitter gaffe over ‘White Van Man’, this has quickly descended into the infantile at a time when mature head should prevail. Once again, more’s the pity.