Why UKIP might have done us all a favour

Saturday 24th May 2014

Tony Breslin Speaking
None of the main parties can be complacent about UKIP’s support in this week’s local and European elections and none should presume it will simply disappear. This is about much more than migration or Europe; UKIP are the lightening conductor for a public mood that sees nothing for it in a disconnected, professionalised politics staffed by the bright and young but hopelessly unworldly children of the think tanks. It is hard to find a frontline politician in any of the main parties that has worked outside the Westminster Village, or it’s own weird suburbia.

This separation of politics from everyday life is accentuated by the tendency of these frontbenchers to surround themselves with ‘Special Advisers’ and think tankers who come from the same exceptionally narrow demographic and through the same career path as themselves and who, as Ed Miliband may now belatedly realise, can’t tell you the price of a loaf of bread. The current one dimensional track to a Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet post (you know: Politics, Philosophy and Economics at one of three or four universities, followed by a Westminster internship, a few years in a favoured think tank and appointment as a Special Adviser) is no longer cutting it. It emphases that ‘politics’ is another world and, more importantly, excludes those beyond its boundaries from playing their part.

This kind of politics explains how we got to a place where the leadership of the governing party met in a university drinking club and the leadership of the opposition was contested by two brothers. Do we need any further evidence that the routes into politics are too narrow, too disconnected? Where in modern politics do we find the former business leaders, trade unionists, teachers and journalists for whom politics is a second career, informed and inspired by the experience of a first on the ‘outside’, in factory, office or community, in industry, commerce or the third sector?

The problem is especially acute for Labour precisely because of its claim (and genuine aspiration) to represent what the PR people now demand we call ‘hard working families’. We need to reopen and broaden the routes into politics and engage individuals and communities in discussions about the kind of politics and communities that we need; as we’ve seen in these elections, if we don’t, UKIP will step into the gap.

Of course, Labour did better in London, but national politicians would do well to remember that London is not typical of the country as a whole. It’s time to look again at how we ‘do’ politics, and from where we recruit our politicians. If this week’s UKIP surge makes us do that, it might have done us all a favour; let’s wait and see.

Tweet Share on Facebook