By Hugh Ash
BIZARRELY, everyone saw it coming, not least of all the usual suspects at the helm of Britain’s ship of state, Cameron, Miliband and Clegg.
It was as if they were standing on a platform at Waterloo Station knowing full well the Eurostar was about to careen through the buffers. And yet they stood there impotent, mutely counting down to the train wreck and their inevitable derailment by the UKIP express.
So, to call the last week’s local government and MEP elections result an ‘earthquake’, as Nigel Farage and chastened Europhile mouthpieces across Europe did, is a misnomer.
Usually, such seismic shifting of tectonic plates come without warning. So, no. That the electorate were going to stick two fingers up to centrist parties and punt for a charismatic nationalist was signalled far in advance by pollsters, even if the outcome was a major tremor measured in political dimensions.
Amazingly, apart from Nick Clegg, the other two stooges hardly waved red lanterns to slow down the UKIP bandwagon.
Squire Cameron parroted his pledge for an in/out referendum on Europe, come 2017. Alas, it fell on deaf ears, because he offered no hint of how he’d renegotiate Britain’s membership, should he still be inhabiting 10 Downing Street in 11 months’ time.
Meanwhile, the lingering vision of Labour’s Ed Miliband, the putative Premier-in-waiting, was his failure to negotiate his way through a bacon sarnie, giving those who dubbed him ‘weird’ even more ammunition and amusement.
At least Clegg twice hectored Farage in TV debates, only for the viewing public to kick him up the backside. The last thing they wanted to hear were further outpouring of messianic zeal for the bounteous EU, which resonates in double digits on their Richter Scale of loathing.
The Deputy PM’s gamble was as foolhardy as it was brave. Now, trounced in both elections, Clegg needs all the acumen he can muster to halt his touchy-feely Lib-Dems hitting the self-destruct button, after a shambolic leadership coup and messy resignation of maverick pollster, Lord Oakeshott.
Meanwhile, lesser mortals of the cossetted Westminster elite were delegated to throw the political sink at Farage – a ‘swivel-eyed loon’ leading a xenophobic ‘one-policy pony’ – but missed their mark by the width of Big Ben. He, in turn, chucked it back with knobs on, and squarely hit the clock-face.
However, only time will tell whether ‘the man with the pint and fag’, whose congenial frankness and lack of Establishment baggage has so entranced large swathes of a disgruntled electorate, turns out to be a false messiah.
History is littered with such characters… from Wat Tyler and his calamitous, 14th Century Peasants Revolt, to Nazi sycophant, Oswald Mosely, and his Blackshirts oafs trashed in the ‘30s, to David Owen abjectly failing to ‘realign’ UK politics, after splitting the Labour Party in 1981, before his Social Democrats disappeared into Lib-Dem oblivion.
Farage, though, is canny enough to be the exception, because what is remarkable about the explosion of support for his Peasants’ Revolt Mark II is that, of all Euroland’s economies, Britain is clawing its way out of recession faster than anywhere else, bar Germany. So, drawing a thread between events of last week in the UK and ructions across the EU may be misguided, even if the stock of politicos almost everywhere has plummeted to new lows.
France has a long, inglorious history of flirting with the extremism and however elegantly Marine Le Pen has remodelled her fascist father, Jean Marie’s National Front, its stench of race-hatred and anti-Semitism can’t be wafted away.
But, after years of austerity and decades of corruption, nepotism and electoral stitch-ups, it’s unsurprising the French veered far-Right in protest at a lame-duck, Left-wing presidency and a wheezing economy.
Denmark, too, delivered a populist backlash to the ruling Social Democrats by empowering the People’s Party, another anti-Europe, anti-immigration clique in the Le Pen mould.
In Greece, however, where the thuggish EU has virtually mugged any imminent hope of recovery, the electorate sought refuge in the radical socialists of Syriza.
Other than nations where GDP is growing – notably the Baltic States plus the powerhouse that is Germany – few EU countries escaped a mauling from the fringe.
And the spleen of the great disillusioned was targeted squarely at the Brussels bogeymen, whose default setting in hard times is screwing down the worst afflicted states still more. But whether the crisis meeting of Europe’s leaders last week fully addressed the message that – as Bill Clinton reminded George W. Bush in the 1992 US Presidential race – ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ is debatable.
Based on its track record of consummate arrogance and creeping federalism, the Europratocracy is just as inclined to take the view that, with 70% of MEPs representing mainstream parties, why worry about a rump of wildcats.
If the outcome, then, is ‘business as usual’, such crass short-termism will be nothing short of hara-kiri, because the election bushfire of 2014 threatens to prelude a Continent-wide conflagration in five years’ time.
Only an EU-lite – with less regulation, more democratic transparency and a repatriation of powers to member states – will assuage the swelling protest movement, whose appeal will widen further if Europe’s decision-makers don’t heed the call of their citizens.
As for the beleaguered Eurozone, European Central Bank policy must reflect such a fundamental shift and pump-prime flagging economies, especially the Club Med states, emulating the successes of America’s Federal Reserve and Britain’s Bank of England.
The alternative strategy is for more failed Europe, not less, with complete fiscal and political integration, not the halfway house status quo.
My guess, though, is that trying to weld 28 disparate entities into a United States of Europe would be the EU’s most disastrous gambit yet. It would not only require members to forego individual national sovereignty, but, inevitably, dominion by the strongest power, Germany – and not even Angela Merkel hankers for that.
Frankly, the very thought of such a scenario gives me the shivers, because the peasants are revolting – and Europrats ignore them at their peril.
To read more of Hugh Ash’s comments, follow his award-winning, online blog – Views From The Mallorca Pier – at hughash.wordpress.com