Ken Clarke (still by the skin of his teeth a “Cabinet minister”) has dismissed Ukip politicians as “clowns” and some of its supporters as “racist”. “Some”? Is he really claiming you can’t say that about the Tories? He went on to say that UKIP was merely a protest party “against” foreigners and immigrants. Really? There are no Tories who don’t like foreigners? And I thought it was now considered perfectly responsible to be concerned about uncontrolled immigration.
Mr Clarke told Sky News’s Murnaghan programme that he was sure that “most of the Ukip people are perfectly nice when they are having a drink”, but added that he “wouldn’t send most of them to the county council”.
“The trouble with Ukip, he said, really is it is just a protest party – it is against the political parties, it is against the political classes, it’s against foreigners, it’s against immigrants. It doesn’t have any very positive policies – they don’t know what they are for… It’s very tempting to vote for a collection of clowns or indignant, angry people who promise that somehow they will allow you to take your revenge on the people who caused it. You should actually vote for people who you think are going to be sensible county councillors.”
They don’t know what they are for? I know what the Tories are for under their present management. I know one thing Mr Clarke is for: same-sex marriage. That means he and the management of his party (though not most of its MPs) are against the understanding of marriage as it has existed in most cultures and certainly in Christian culture down the ages; that it is in its essence between one man and one woman.
One of the few politicians in England (I no longer know what to say about Scotland) to come out against “gay marriage” has been Nigel Farage. As he told the Guardian in December, “David Cameron’s [same-sex marriage] proposal has the potential to rip apart the traditional rural Tory vote. While Ukip wholly respects the rights of gay people to have civil partnerships, we feel the prime minister’s proposals will present an affront to millions of people in this country for whom this will be the final straw”. Farage, the Guardian reported, “believes the gay marriage issue will serve his party well by highlighting the impact of the European court of human rights on Britain and by showing Ukip can rally support around a touchstone issue”.
“Ukip is not a one-issue party,” he said. “But the gay marriage case is closely interwoven with the European court of human rights, as is so much of our life. Ukip will be seen to be a party campaigning not just about who governs Britain but about how we think that Britain should be governed.” The intervention by Farage came as Tory associations all over the country confirmed that members were resigning in large numbers over the issue.
Those who have resigned have not returned, nor will they. Tory party membership under Cameron was already declining; now it is at an all-time low. Peter Oborne commented in February (under the headline “David Cameron is trashing his own party, and it’s not a pretty sight”), that it was “time to remind the Prime Minister that the Conservative Party, which he has the temporary privilege of leading, has been one of our great civic institutions for the past 200 years. Throughout this period, it has gained its strength and durability from its deep provincial roots rather than its metropolitan centre, allied to the strong sense that it represents the British nation as a whole. There is something ugly about the casual way that Mr Cameron and his allies are disdainfully trashing the organisation he leads in order to promote his own popularity… Tory membership is sinking. According to a report by the House of Commons library, it now stands at between 130,000 and 170,000, down from around 250,000 when Mr Cameron became leader, and three million in the post-war period … If the fall continues at the present rate, membership will fall below 100,000 before the next election. If that happens, we are about to embark on an entirely new kind of politics.”
Mr Clarke assails Ukip for being full of loonies and fruitcakes (such subtle language): what is so sane and reasonable about the way the Tory party is currently being, in Peter Oborne’s words, “trashed” by Cameron and his supporters, including Clarke who, while we are about it, would have had us into the eurozone a generation ago if he had had the chance, so that we wouldn’t now be simply struggling economically, we would be a basket case, like Spain or even Greece. “Loonies and fruitcakes”? Do me a favour.
So what else is Ukip in favour of, apart from leaving the EU and the traditional one man-one woman understanding of marriage? Well, quite a bit. Some policies I’m not sure about like the merging of income tax and national insurance into a flat 31 per cent for everyone, starting at £11,500; I’d need the likely effect of that explaining to me by the IFS or someone. The Guardian newspaper had a look at their latest, pre-local government election manifesto (so did I, but soon gave up; like most manifestos it’s practically unreadable) and summarised it into bullet points. I liked the following. Under health:
• Create voucher system to allow people to opt out of NHS system entirely.
• Matrons to run hospitals, not non-clinically trained managers.
• Free eye tests and dental checks.
• Smoking rooms in pubs. [That’s a health policy. Don’t ’cha love it?]
And under environment:
• Support coal-fired power and oppose wind farms.
• Stop funding UN’s climate change panel.
• Ban schools from showing Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth [I didn’t know anyone still did that]
• Incentivise the production of electric cars.
Altogether, Ukip policies seem to me either sensible or profoundly right; and Farage is always cheerful, even amusing, above all not self-important or sententious. So until the Tories come to their senses I shall be voting for him and his party. He will never come to power: that’s not the point. But the larger his vote, the greater his influence over mainstream politics. That, so far as I can judge, would be a good thing and not a bad one.