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Wednesday 9 March 2011

By-Election Reverse – Don’t Panic!

The availability of information nowadays, one might think, would make a hack’s job easier: there would be no need to be short of the facts when they are all available on-line. But, increasingly, it is those same hacks who continue to put out lazy and poorly researched copy, and bloggers who pull it apart to show that yet another self proclaimed emperor has no clothes.

And there is no more imperial presence than Maily Telegraph hack Simon “Enoch Was Right” Heffer, whose reaction to last week’s Barnsley by-election has been to press the panic button and churn out a homage to Phil Space suggesting that the Tories have lurched to the left, and that they can regain their rightful place on the political spectrum by “getting a grip” and becoming like UKIP.

This last is presumably because UKIP came second in the poll at Barnsley: Heffer has clearly not noticed that the comparative numbers for all except Labour were hardly significant, and has not grasped the thought that by-elections are fertile ground for protest votes.

But he does say that UKIP “is remarkably like the Conservative Party used to be”. It is? Well, the Hefferlump says so: it “believes in a small state, tax cuts, strong defence” as well as the supposed benefits from EU withdrawal. How can we be so sure? Of course – UKIP have a manifesto on-line!

So let’s have a browse. Small state, eh? Er, what’s this? “Create one million new skilled jobs with public and private investment in a five point public works programme”, “transport infrastructure including high speed rail lines” (I included that to show that Heffer hasn’t bothered to look this far), “Triple the number of UK Border Agency staff engaged in controlling immigration”, “double [the number of] prison places”, “Boost the military budget by 40%”, “Restore free NHS dental check-ups and eye tests”, “Re-introduce student grants” and “Support the new supermarket Ombudsman to ensure farmers receive a fair price from supermarket chains”.

I somehow doubt that Margaret Thatcher or her followers will be subscribing to any of that any time soon. And UKIP’s sums, quite apart from not telling how they can cut taxes and pay for their wish list, are decidedly shaky: they exaggerate the UK’s annual contribution to the EU by ten billion quid (or well over 100%).

Young Dave and his fellow jolly good chaps may indeed need to get a grip. But the idea that they have moved to the left, and somehow raiding UKIP’s manifesto will move them back to the right, and restore their credibility, is clearly something out of fantasy land.

Moreover, anyone with internet access can see that for themselves. Or is Heffer so convinced of his righteousness that he believes his readers foolish enough to take him at his word?

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