No, this isn’t my opinion. It’s the deliberate assertion of Nigel “Thirsty” Farage himself. And this is the example he seemingly wants to follow: “The SDP didn't last very long but it won because they finished up with Tony Blair who was an SDP prime minister. They fundamentally changed the entire Labour party – Foot, Benn and the hard left was gone and you got a modernising Labour party”.
One has to assume that, given the time of day the remark was made, Nige had not yet ventured in search of the nearest pint of Landlord. He wants to follow the SDP. But what happened to UK politics after the formation of the SDP is not quite what Farage thinks. For starters, Tony Benn was still an MP after Tone became PM, and remains a Labour Party member.
And Farage is so selective that he misses the influence of Margaret Thatcher on the politics of the 1980s: much of her legacy, for better or worse, has been retained by Governments of all stripes. And Blair an SDP PM? When did Tone first contest a Parliamentary Election for Labour? When Michael Foot was leader, that’s when. He entered Parliament (as did Pa Broon) in 1983.
The SDP, on the other hand, did not change the Labour Party. The whole point of their existence was that they had left Labour: Roy Jenkins had been Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer under Harold Wilson, David Owen had been Jim Callaghan’s Defence Secretary, Shirley Williams was Callaghan’s Education Secretary, and Bill Rogers had been Transport Secretary in the same cabinet.
And, ultimately, the SDP was subsumed within a moderately renamed Liberal Party, now the Lib Dems. Is this what Farage wants? Splits and all (David Owen and two other MPs refused to join the Liberals)? Perhaps Nige thinks UKIP are as popular as the SDP/Liberal Alliance were. Wrong again. Soon after the two came to their agreement, they were posting poll ratings of 50%.
Where is UKIP polling right now? In the mid twenties percent. But one good thing could come out of this round of elections, and that would be for the party to win one of those councils it is contesting. Just the one. Because then, they would no longer be sitting on the sidelines telling the others how rubbish they are. They would have to do all the hard work and decision making themselves.
Because if UKIP wants to talk of being like the SDP, it has not only to get elected, but also to demonstrate that it can take power and exercise it competently. Until then, the Farage fringe will be no more than a repository for “none of the above” voters. And the problem for Nige is that, having taken power somewhere – anywhere – voters may think again and return, mainly to the Tories.
Not even Nigel Farage can run an elected body by propping up the bar.
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