I never thought I'd say this, but I think the rise of Ukip is overall a very positive development in British politics. Being an underage Conservative, which is an endangered species at the best of times, I will no doubt have to watch my back having made this statement. But I stand by it for the reasons I'll give below.
Since the financial crisis swept across the globe a few years ago, it has felt as though politicians have generally been pretty much useless. They seem powerless in the face of globalised financial corporations, transnational environmental disaster and riots coordinated via BlackBerrys. On a micro level, the system seems to be fraying at the edges in some new way each day, be it a broken down train on the Northern Line in London or the discovery of horsemeat in a burger in a branch of Iceland in Sheffield. Politicians, of all stripes, seem to be on a permanent fire-fighting mission.
The insular mentality that now predominates in political circles has led to an almost complete loss of confidence in the system, be they left, right, centre or upside down. A politician's main concern now seems to be remaining in power, which means saying what they need to say in order to be liked. No politician will ever criticise the status quo in too dramatic a fashion for fear of upsetting some key section of the electorate. The NHS and the armed forces, all stuttering behemoths, are sacred, untouchable cows. To even suggest that the financial services serve a useful role in the economy is tantamount to defending Jimmy Savile.
The problem with this is that the political parties that dominate British politics all end up saying roughly the same thing. There might be rhetorical differences, but ultimately they are singing from the same hymn sheet. Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative all say they love jobs and growth and fluffy things. They all say immigrants are a problem and bankers need to be flagellated. The only differences are the words they use.
The result is a system where elected officials spend their time running from crisis to crisis with only next day's headlines in mind. The newspapers become a tepid soup of half-soaked policy pronouncements that no politician has any intention of ever implementing. Our leaders seem to be swept away by events and completely out of their depth. Their mouths speak blandishments about 'getting growth going' and 'making the banks pay', but their eyes belie the fact they have no idea what's going on or what to do.
In this context you can't blame people for not caring about politics or trusting their politicians anymore. They all say the same things and in general seem to be united in their incompetence. What difference does it make if you have a Labour or a Tory government in power? Unfortunately, the problem is that when people stop caring, politicians can sit back and relax. And this is exactly what needs to not happen.
To return to my initial my statement: the Ukip surge is a positive development. Why? Because the British people see in Mr Farage a person who understands them. In Ukip they see a movement that stands apart from the fossils in Westminster. And for the first time since 1997 when Blair swept into power, there is a sense that things could be different. People are participating in democracy in a way they haven't done for a long time, which can only be a good thing.
I would caveat this statement by emphasising that I am not a supporter of Ukip and have no intention of ever voting for them. I think they are ideologically confused and primarily united by Farage's personality. Anger and resentment characterise the Ukip movement. Their policy towards Europe is something along the lines of 'burn every bridge we can find', a childish approach that would not translate well into government. In a nutshell, Ukip is the mirror image of the disaffection with the establishment that currently characterises the British psyche.
That said, the establishment is, as a consequence of Farage's popularity, waking up from its neglectful slumber. The Tories' loss of support in the local elections has triggered a lot of handwringing in the party, and rightly so. And Labour should be just as alarmed. People like Ukip because they can laugh at themselves and seem to talk sense; they are populists, pure and simple.
So long as the establishment ignores the deeper causes of popular disillusionment, the angry Ukippers will be here to stay. What needs to happen is for the established parties to stop bleating, start listening and then be honest with people. We are in an era of rapid decline, both environmental and economic and tough decisions have to be made. Without popular support, nothing that needs to get done will get done.
I hope this happens soon because if certain characters do not wake up and smell the coffee, we might end up in political deadlock. Italy, the USA and a host of other countries are effectively ungovernable due to anti-establishment movements making such huge inroads. Not dissimilar to Germany in the early 1930s, come to think of it.