David Cameron must have been beside himself with glee. On the penultimate day
of campaigning for the local and European elections, his two main rivals –
Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband – bounced from blunder to blunder. Mr Miliband
kicked things off by estimating the price of his weekly shop at something
like £70 or £80, roughly £30 below the UK average.
Later, in an interview with Radio Wiltshire, he insisted that Jim Grant was
doing an excellent job as leader of Swindon council – despite obviously
knowing neither Mr Grant’s name, nor that it was the Tories who actually
controlled the council.
As for Mr Farage, a street carnival intended to demonstrate Ukip’s embrace of
minorities descended into farce after the steel band pulled out and the
event was picketed by those upset about his attitude to Romanians. The Ukip
leader himself was a no-show: his local organiser helpfully explained that
he could not be expected to appear at a venue – Croydon high street – that
was “unsafe” and a “dump”.
Beyond adding to the gaiety of the nation, does any of this actually matter?
Ukip’s recent surge will not be undone by one shambolic event; otherwise,
the rolling fiasco that was Godfrey Bloom’s performance at its party
conference would have torpedoed it months ago. And while Mr Miliband may
have put a few noses out of joint in Swindon, his was the sort of lapse that
the campaign treadmill is almost designed to provoke.
Yet such vignettes do have an impact when they confirm a preconception. When
Margaret Thatcher showed off her skills as a housewife, it helped to foster
the idea that she would apply the same scrimp-and-save approach to the
public purse. And when Mr Miliband reveals his ignorance of such matters, it
suggests that a man who has made the “cost of living crisis” his mantra has
no actual experience of those costs. This helps to explain his stubborn
failure to connect with voters: neither his personality, nor his brand of
“lofty seminar-room socialism” (to quote the New Statesman), resonates with
the man on the Croydon omnibus.
Under such circumstances, yesterday’s warning from Mr Miliband’s occasional
guru, Lord Glasman, feels especially pertinent. Mr Farage may not be able to
organise a carnival, or to win over disgruntled immigrants. But he does
connect with working-class voters in a way that other politicians do not.
Lord Glasman describes this as “a huge problem for Labour”, with Mr Farage
appealing to a “sense of dispossession” in its heartlands. Whatever the
outcome of tomorrow’s elections, the disillusionment that Ukip feeds on will
endure – as will the challenge it poses to the political establishment.
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