Two by-elections, only months before the next general election, have sent tremors through Britain’s major political parties. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) just won one seat from the Tories in the south and very nearly toppled a safe Labour seat in the north. The southern seat was won by its previous MP, a talented and highly intelligent conservative reformer, Douglas Carswell, who defected from the Conservatives to UKIP. You can see the damage to the Tories here:
This is populism fueled by the failure of the establishment to respond to the needs of the voters outside the London bubble. Here’s a flavor of what’s going on as penned by a Newsweek reporter on the campaign trail with Farage:
Walking at his side as he toured the streets, I’d expected him to be greeted, at least occasionally, with a salvo of abuse. Instead he was received – everywhere – with an enthusiasm verging on euphoria … A woman approaches Farage, who is wearing his trademark blazer and tie. Heavily tattooed and in her late twenties, she doesn’t look like a natural Ukip supporter. She shakes his hand.
“How do you feel,” he asks, “about the other parties?” “Wankers,” she replies.
Alas, the party is also fueled by xenophobia and bigotry. To say that this part of the profile hit me like a ton of bricks would be an understatement:
Today,” Farage adds, “if you’re an Indian engineer, say, your chances of admission are limited. Ukip want to control the quantity and quality of people who come.” “Quality? How do you define quality people?” “It’s simple. That Latvian convicted murderer shouldn’t have been allowed here.” “So quality means people without a homicide conviction?” “Yes. And people who do not have HIV, to be frank. That’s a good start. And people with a skill.”
Farage has not backed down from associating murderers with people with HIV, and that says a lot about the underlying attitudes that have fueled his rise. Carswell, mercifully, refused to endorse the idea, preferring to emphasize a skills-centered immigration system, as in Australia.
So in Britain, we have the meteoric rise of a party fueled by popular dissatisfaction with the major parties, fueled by xenophobia, and border paranoia, and obsessed with the issue of immigration. The question to my mind is when this kind of combination finds a tribune in America. Ted Cruz, anyone?