Lewes, Sussex "So, what are you going to do about the problem of dog fouling?” I was following Donna Edmunds, a district councilor and a United Kingdom Independence party (UKIP) candidate for the European parliament, as she went door to door in the center of Lewes, a picturesque town nestled just below the South Downs, on the edge of the London commuter belt. There weren’t many votes for UKIP in prosperous Lewes, and there was one less after Edmunds said that while her party was definitely opposed to dog poop, they didn’t actually have a policy on it.
The next house didn’t go any better. “What are you going to do about Page 3 girls?” Edmunds allowed that, as a believer in individual freedom, she wasn’t planning on doing anything about the topless young ladies that grace the inside of the Sun newspaper. As we turned away, we agreed that if you didn’t like Page 3 girls, the appropriate thing to do was not to buy the Sun. But it was another vote lost.
On May 22, Britain—and Europe—will start to vote in elections to the European parliament. Actually, most people won’t bother with the voting: Across the EU, turnout has fallen continuously since 1979. But in Britain, UKIP is looking forward to the day. Polls put it neck and neck with Labour for first place. If UKIP wins, it will be the first outright victory in a national election for any party other than Labour or the Tories since 1906. Admittedly, it’s only a European election—the obvious irony is that UKIP, like many insurgent parties across the EU, will do best in elections to a legislature it despises. But with the next British general election scheduled to be held in May 2015, UKIP could be more than a flash in the pan protest. With the near collapse of the Liberal Democrats, part of David Cameron’s coalition government, UKIP has a chance to become Britain’s third party. What is less clear is whether UKIP is ready to seize that chance.
UKIP was founded in 1993, but it endured a chaotic and poorly led first 15 years. It won over 16 percent in the 2009 European elections, but it drew barely 3 percent of the vote in the 2010 general election, and it rarely figured in national opinion polling until 2012. Then, suddenly, UKIP shot ahead, impelled in part by the near-simultaneous collapse of every other alternative. The far-right British National party (BNP) fell apart; Labour had the turgid Ed Miliband as its new leader; the Liberal Democrats imploded as they were forced to take responsibility for governing; and the Tories bungled the 2012 budget by imposing new taxes on the elderly. From low single digits, UKIP surged in national voting intentions to the mid-teens, and in European voting intentions to 30 percent.
That surge has spurred on the world-class British psephological industry, as pollsters try to figure out where the voters are coming from. UKIP, naturally, celebrates itself as the voice of Britain, drawing support from all regions, classes, and parties, and there is a bit of truth in that claim. But only a bit. The reality is that a substantial plurality of UKIP’s support—over 43 percent, according to a massive survey by Populus and the Financial Times—comes from former Conservative supporters. Former Liberal Democrat, core UKIP, and nonvoters and former supporters of minor parties add a bit more than 15 percent each, and former Labour voters well under 10 percent. By the same token, UKIP is strongest in the Tory heartlands in the South, weaker in the Labour North and Wales, and almost nonexistent in Scotland.
So while the first academic analysis of UKIP, Revolt on the Right, recently published by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin, finds that it poses a serious long-run threat to Labour, today it’s primarily a problem for the Conservative party. It would be a bigger problem if it were better organized on the ground: One UKIP activist described the party to me as “aggressively amateur.” Peter Catterall, a distinguished historian of modern Britain and a Tory councilor in the London borough of Bexley, estimates that if UKIP got its act together locally, it could poll 20 percent. As it is, UKIP has perhaps 5 percent in Bexley. UKIP’s surge reflects the party’s sudden fame—or notoriety—more than it does the building of a permanent institution.
David Cameron leaves things late. Leadership by essay crisis, it has been called, a nod to procrastination by generations of students. But his belated response to the mounting political turmoil over Britain’s membership in the EU—a speech proposing an in/out referendum—won’t save him from disaster in the 2015 general election.
It’s always bloody Europe. It was Europe (specifically, Tory splits over Britain’s relationship with the EU) that finally did in Mrs. Thatcher, and it did in poor John Major too. Now it is beginning to look like David Cameron might eventually go the same way, felled by the issue he has tried to dodge since becoming party leader in 2005. To borrow his phrase from the following year, “banging on” about Brussels was over. Saving the planet was in.
On the occasion of the Official Visit, The President and Mrs. Obama gave the Prime Minister and Mrs. Cameron a one-of-a-kind Braten 1000 Series Grill hand made by Engelbrecht Grills and Cookers of Paxton, Illinois. Symbolizing the personal friendship between the President and Mrs. Obama and Prime Minister and Mrs. Cameron, the gift commemorates their May 2011 visit to 10 Downing Street where together they grilled and served food to American and British Armed Service Members.
London—Trying to return to Hackney, five minutes from the heart of the protests, from vacation on the night the rioting was at its fiercest provided an insight into the carnage engulfing London. The city had been transformed into a kind of Alan Moore dystopia. Sirens were deafening, with bright lights blinding. Train operators announced gravely that there had been “civil unrest” across London, and that some areas of the city were no longer safe.
The riots in the United Kingdom continue for a fourth straight day. On Tuesday, Londoners awoke to torched cars and street scuffles in Ealing, police horses lining up in Lewisham, and stores and residences in flames in Tottenham. Prosperous boroughs in the capital now resemble war zones, as mobs continue to overwhelm police and loot stores. In the last twenty-four hours, disorder has also spread to cities across England, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol, and Nottingham.
For a politician whose previous career was in public relations, David Cameron cannot have picked a more polarizing subject, or less opportune time to address it, than his recent speech on the failure of state multiculturalism, which he delivered in early February at the Munich Security Conference. The British prime minister’s remarks happened to coincide with a mass rally in Luton led by the xenophobic English Defence League (EDL). Liberal commentators in Britain did not fail to notice the unfortunate overlap and everywhere detected a high-frequency Tory appeal to the far right.
“It could have been much worse.” That’s the line many of my British friends are putting forward about the cuts to the British defense budget announced by the new Tory government this past week. And they’re right.
Hamas are resistance fighters who are struggling to defend their land. They have won an election. I have told this to U.S. officials ... I do not accept Hamas as a terrorist organization. I think the same today. They are defending their land.