Thursday, 28 February 2013

Eastleigh by-election? UKIP or the Conservatives?

The Eastleigh by-election presents an interesting conundrum for those wanting a smaller state.  Labour is out of the running, and is even more appalling thanks to the vile Mike O'Farrell, who was disappointed that Margaret Thatcher hadn't been murdered and that Argentina's fascist military dictatorship hadn't won the Falklands War.  It puts him beneath the likes of Frankie Boyle, who specialises in comedy of extreme bad taste, because Boyle is joking, O'Farrell wasn't.  Fortunately, he will be a footnote, but if he is what Labour now considers a quality prime candidate, then David Cameron may not need to be so worried.  He has had less media scrutiny because he has no real chance here.

The race was meant to be between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, which on the face of it should be obvious.  Besides a handful of notable souls, the Liberal Democrats are liberal in name only, and are effectively a non-cloth cap brand of socialism with a heavy strand of environmentalism driving policies.  It's a party that deserves to be eviscerated at the next election, and a win in Eastleigh would delay that.  No one who believes in a smaller state can seriously contemplate for a party addicted to bashing the wealthy, addicted to wealth redistribution and committed to the environmentalist based evisceration of energy markets.  Those handful of real liberals left will only have a role when the party is eviscerated itself, for it currently offers absolutely nothing.   Oh and being a local authority politician doesn't impress in and of itself, it just means you are climbing the pole to more power when you are with a party that is about more government.

So what of the Conservatives?  Yes, a vote for Maria Hutchings is tempting to knock out the Liberal Democrats, and because she is Eurosceptic and more "true" conservative than the Prime Minister.  Yet, it will be seen as an endorsement of the current Conservative administration, which front loaded tax increases and modest levels of austerity, which still treats the NHS like George Galloway treats Islamists, which contemptuously increased the long run burden of the ponzi pension scheme, refused to reform the energy sector and has embraced totemic big state projects like HS2, whilst being utterly gutless on big private projects like a third runway at Heathrow.   In essence, the best that can be said for the current government is that it is better than Gordon Brown, but then Major was better than Kinnock - it isn't saying much.  Hutchings isn't a bad candidate, but when the main endorsement of her is that she isn't the Liberal Democrat, it isn't really enough.

If she wins, she wont in herself change much, but if she loses - to UKIP - it will.  It will show that a referendum on Europe isn't enough, and that performance over the economy is not impressing anyone.

UKIP becomes the obvious alternative.  Diane James has blundered with a stupid scaremongering attempt regarding Bulgarian migrants.  However, given she has a small chance of winning the seat, backing her has wider strategic importance in two senses.  The obvious one is to give a bloodied nose to the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. As flawed as UKIP is as a party of small government (which is isn't consistently), it does represent a step change from the Conservatives.  It sends a message that people do not believe that the current policies are addressing the economic crisis adequately.   It will bolster Conservatives who want serious change, weeks before the Budget.

Secondly it will change UKIP.  Nigel Farage has been criticised for being too powerful in the party, and for not choosing to stand.  Diane James is probably not party leadership material, but if she won the first UKIP seat in the House of Commons, she would effectively take on part of that role.  UKIP needs to be a party of more than Farage, of more than craven populism and focus on blaming the EU for everything, and that leaving the EU will solve everything.  If she was elected, it would challenge that.

Finally, whatever the outcome, it will hurt two of the three main parties and only be good for UKIP.  Labour will look irrelevant for once.  If the Conservatives lose to the Liberal Democrats it will be taken that the party has been "too nasty", and so will be even more craven to the pragmatic unprincipled reactionary arm of the party.  If the Liberal Democrats lose to the Conservatives, Nick Clegg's leadership will be somewhat shakier.   Yet if both lose to UKIP, it will be a clear message that UKIP has established itself (and moreso than the Greens, which although with one seat, appear nearly invisible thanks to having a leader who isn't an MP).   It will force UKIP to be more open and scrutinise itself more, and will also mean it has become a party which many millions of voters may see as no longer being a wasted vote.  If it is to have the future, it needs the scrutiny of being in Parliament  - then we will see what it is made of.

So, if you must vote, vote Diane James for UKIP.  She'll work very hard to retain the seat at the general election, and she might shake up Westminster, and send a message that government needs to look to do less, tax less and regulate less.   Or she will disappoint, profoundly, and UKIP will be shown for what some think it is - a party of mere protest.  Either way, it will be good for the Conservatives to be shocked into thinking that the alternative to the status quo is NOT to be more like the Liberal Democrats.

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