Last week’s council elections were a vote of no confidence in the three main parties at Westminster. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives were all losers, with their share of the vote down on last year by up to ten percent. Meanwhile, UKIP surged, with the new party touching on the Tories’ coat tails.
The main parties would be mad to see the surge in UKIP popularity, north, south, east and west, as anything but an expression of the quiet conservatism of the people of this country. So often, and increasingly so since 1997, this conservative instinct has been ignored – or treated with contempt. It has no place in the political climate created by Mr Blair and now embraced as common political currency.
Yet now we know.
A significantly greater proportion of people in this country care about values more important than the fashionable policies of the day at Westminster. They care about this country, about its culture, its character and its economic survival.
These were woven into our country’s slow evolution towards parliamentary democracy. UKIP and the Conservative Party espouse them, seeking to put Britain first and preserve her sovereignty and independence. The fact that voters coalesced to give UKIP and the Tories combined almost half the votes cast in total shows that they are as relevant today as they were throughout the 20th century. Yet the more such central issues are ignored or forced out of the picture by those at the top of the greasy pole, the more dramatically they will be brought back in the seesaw of democratic politics. For the moment, we still have that seesaw. But for how long?
A belief in the democratic future of Britain has already inspired voters (if not their leaders) to believe that they alone must solve their problems, not Brussels. Europe, if anything, makes them worse. National power which has ebbed to Brussels must now be restored.
This matters for every aspect of the future of this country: the City of London whose financial and other sectors account for almost a quarter of the UK’s GDP, now suffers from an extraordinary degree of complex legislation by a mushrooming number of foreign financial regulators, in Paris and Frankfurt, as well as Brussels. Though London, historically, is different, with distinct sectors and universal banks, the foreign regulators have awarded themselves the right to interfere in every nook and cranny of transactions of a system different to that elsewhere. And the cost will be paid by pensioners and all who aspire to save for the rainy day, as compliance costs rise.
Or, take the survival of our social institutions for education and healthcare, already bursting at the seams: they are now open to new arrivals in this country from the EU at historically high and unprecedented proportions. Employers too must meet the expenses of complex social package imposed on business, struggling to keep going with the domestic tax and NICs. Britain, as these entrepreneurs will tell you, can afford one government, but only if it can end its reign when it becomes autocratically expensive. It cannot afford two.
Today, the UK finds itself in an EU of 450 million people, run by unaccountable law makers in the Commission intent on further integration which can only come at the cost of national sovereignty. UK politicians come, and UK politicians may go, their careers boosted or ended by ‘Europe’. In later life they have come to see that Britain’s way does not necessarily lie side by side with the arrangements to which they so readily subscribed when in office. This week Nigel Lawson and his successor Norman Lamont, two of this country’s important 20thcentury chancellors, have now said we must revisit the law which binds us to Europe and change course. The Queen’s speech highlighted the urgency of fair gate keeping for scarce social services.
But while the growing political consensus amongst past and present leaders is to be welcomed, the real problem remains. When it comes to the EU, the UK has given away many of the powers it needs for recovery, growth and a decent social future for its citizens. Not only must radical steps be taken to recover essential powers from Europe. But at home, the instinctive, and quiet conservatism of the majority of people in this country, must be respected in Westminster
*Dr Sheila Lawlor is the Director of Politeia