Saturday, 22 March 2014

Dick Dastardly gets serious as Citizen Dave starts to lose his grip.

Nigel Farage, aka Dick Dastardly, announced this week that he had got rid of ‘old UKIP’ and remodelled the party to take advantage of a huge opportunity to take voted from disgruntled Labour supporters.

The new model party would be, he said, ‘a lot more professional, a lot more smiley, a lot less angry and its going places.’ He also said that he would consider himself to have ‘failed’ if his party didn’t win seats at Westminster in 2015 and a Labour government took office without committing to hold a referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme Farage said that he didn’t go into politics seeking a ‘career’, but because he thought ‘this European entanglement isn’t right for the UK’ and that a ‘lot of people have woken up to the idea that we’ve lost control of our borders’ and that ‘now is the moment for UKIP to achieve what it set out to do and I think we’re going to do it.’

Meaning, of course, that the time has come for Farage to be propelled to world domination on the back of the discontent of Middle England (insert evil laughter here); sorry came over all old UKIP there.

Is the world ready for a serious, grown up UKIP, aren’t they risking losing their unique selling point by becoming like the other parties?

It was clear that after having a UKIP councillor declare the recent floods were god’s punishment for gay marriage being made legal and the sub-racist ramblings of Godfrey Bloom something had to change. Farage, like most politicians who cut a dash has a touch of vaudeville in his soul; but even he doesn’t want to lead a circus.

Although much of what he believes is rather muddle headed Nigel Farage is clearly a man with a political mission, he is also shrewd enough to know that the window of opportunity is narrow. If UKIP wants to be more than a repository for the angst of Middle England the party was always going to have to change.

The trick is for it to become more measured and professional without becoming too much like the other parties. Like them or not, and I don’t much, UKIP do at the moment speak for the growing constituency of people who feel ignored or taken for granted by the mainstream parties.

Their solution, a retreat into some fantasy version of Britain before it was contaminated by contact with Europe is bordering on the delusional, but it seems to resonate with the public in the way the offerings of Labour et al just don’t. If the three main parties could connect with the concerns of ordinary voters there would be no need for UKIP to exist.

They can’t and, seemingly, are unable to recognise either the scale of their failure or the extent of public exasperation. It is no surprise that a party like UKIP has arrived to fill the resulting vacuum and that they now want to raise their game, even if they probably won’t overturn the political system in 2015.

Baroness Warsi has joined the growing chorus of Tories criticising David Cameron for surrounding himself with fellow old Etonians.

Appearing on ITV’s The Agenda programme Warsi, a senior Foreign Office minister held up a mock headline reading: ‘No10 Takes Eton Mess Off The Menu’ saying she was trying to make a ‘serious point’ about faltering social mobility. She defended the comments made last week by Michael Gove saying he was ‘making a serious that it can’t be right that the seven percent who go to independent schools end up at the top tables, not just of politics, but banking and every other profession.’

The Prime Minister, said a Downing Street spokesman, had ‘spoken about the importance of social mobility’ on a number of occasions and that it was ‘absolutely at the heart of government education reforms.’

Having one senior member of the cabinet attack the ‘Eton connection’ at the heart of one’s government is unfortunate; when two do so in the space of a week it looks like carelessness.

The issue of where David Cameron went to school is immaterial, I don’t hold his good fortune against him, but the fact that his ministers feel obliged to comment on it shows a weakening of his authority. A leader on top of his game wouldn’t have made the mistakes when it comes to understanding how ordinary Britons live that have prompted the first stirrings of dissent in the Tory camp.

The issue isn’t where he went to school, but how far out of touch with everyday life he has allowed his government to become. Cruel though the consequences were the Thatcher revolution of the eighties was based in an, admittedly skewed, version of the aspirations of ordinary voters. Under David Cameron the Tories seem intent of dragging Britain back to the days when a lucky elite did very nicely and everyone else had to accept the crumbs from their table and be jolly grateful.

The Prime Minister has little to fear from either Michael Gove or Baroness Warsi, they are minor players on the political stage and lack the support to be realistic leadership contenders. That they have spoken up and not been despatched to outer darkness for doing so may though draw out one of the party’s bigger beasts, particularly if a majority doesn’t materialise after the next election.

The pound in your pocket is about to change.

This week George Osborne delivered a budget aimed at supporting the nation’s ‘makers, doers and savers.’ I am no economist and so will leave the detailed comment to the high domed types and make a few general comments instead.

Rising the limit for how much money people can put into ISA’s to fifteen thousand pounds is good for savers, at least it is for those savers who have the money to spare. The trouble is as the cost of living continues to rise most people haven’t got anything to put aside.

Rather more worrying are plans to change the rules for pensions to allow people to cash in their savings instead of purchasing an annuity. The change is being sold to voters wrapped in brave talk about ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’; but this fails to disguise some serious risks.

The prospect of billions of pounds saved by people with little financial knowledge being up for grabs will be like blood in the water for the sharks of the financial world. Huge profits will be made from selling people unsuitable products, great harm will be caused as a result and there will then be another unseemly bun fight over compensation rather as there has following the PPI scandal.

Never mind we are going to get a new twelve sided pound coin, the fact the change will do little to deter counterfeiters and will involve thousands of coin operated machines having to be modified hasn’t occurred to the brilliant minds running the Treasury. Somehow this seems to be an apt metaphor for a government that puts flashy gimmicks ahead of doing good.

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