After 15 years in Professional Politics, 9 seats in a Parliament that they claim to despise but whose funding has maintained the party and now around 250 or so Councillors, UKIP needs to accept it has arrived in the Westminster Village, the place of the Metropolitan elite. That was clear from the way in which Nigel Farage arrived in Essex to meet some of the new UKIP Councillors to be met by the sea of cameras and film crews, emerging from his Party Leader Range Rover. Despite the lack of seats in Westminster itself and power to change our laws, the charge that UKIP and Nigel Farage are not part of the system no longer sticks. If as expected they take the largest share of the EU vote when the results are announced on Sunday, the consequences of their arrival will begin to add shape to the way in which our nation is seen in Brussels and in time more widely. As depressing that might be for some of us, the question is what role will Mr Farage play in the village to which he is now firmly a resident?
As I have written previously, Nigel Farage has been my constituency MEP for 15 years and in all that time he has never once attempted to contact me in the way in which some of the other MEPs have done. Outside of the election addresses from all of the parties I have been sent messages and newsletters by Conservative, Lib Dem, Labour and Green MEPs but never from my UKIP MEP. I despair that he and his colleagues fail to vote in the Parliament on many of the occasions when they could, but that charge also applies to my Conservative MEPs. That invariably I would disagree with almost all of their voting decisions is small comfort from knowing that my representatives are not representing me in any way on many of the occasions they could do so. Early indications of UKIP Councillors who were elected last year is that they, like their other party colleagues are a very mixed bag.
The decision to arrive in the village by Mr Farage has come as a result of the outcome of elections to a certain extent, but also follows the way in which UKIP has developed its identity and style. Nigel has been talking in Presidential terms about power broking for some time. Last night with less than a year to go to the General Election he was speaking about it in the clearest terms I have heard yet. You cannot continue to claim to be an outsider, if you want to be taken seriously as a power and force to be reckoned with. Nigel cannot retain the mask of the new kid on the block when he is as familiar and experienced as we know him to be, no matter how chaotic other party members may be. By sharp contrast the Green Party who also have a sizeable number of Councillors and rising including one Council that they lead, a small number of MEPs and one MP don’t claim nor seek to be power brokers, yet the impact that my MP, Caroline Lucas has on debates and on the day to day work of the House of Commons is disproportionate to the proportion of the votes she holds. Whilst the Green Party locally has made many mistakes and failed to show leadership on many issues, many of the party members are excellent ward Councillors. Leadership in Brighton & Hove is not an easy thing to find, let alone to maintain for 4 years as the three Parties have discovered over the last 15 years. Whilst my personal political views are much closer to the Green policies than they are to any of the views expressed by UKIP members, the emergence of the new people in the Westminster village means they will now be expected to show why they bothered to move in. It was clear from the way in which Patrick O’Flynn was treated on Any Questions last night that the policy gap all to evident in his understanding and that of the party itself will need to be filled, and fast. Sadly it is possible to maintain a one policy approach, and a style to match in Europe as the events happen outside of the minds and view of most of us, but that will not be the case in the context of so many Council seats and with such greedy eyes on Parliamentary seats. UKIP are firmly in the village for the moment and need to show what role they intend to play and if they can make a contribution which will allow them to stay.
Thankfully there are other ways of influencing public debate and national discourse. As already mentioned Caroline Lucas stands head and shoulders above many in Westminster. The same was true in his days in Westminster of Martin Bell. We need more in Westminster and indeed in our Council Chambers who have the wisdom and courage of people like Martin and Caroline. People who can represent their constituents well, but also show their colleagues that party in fighting and gain saying the other parties is not the only way of doing Politics. Perhaps a few Independents might get elected in next years General Election and hopefully they will prove to be even more effective than Mr Farage at changing the tone of the debate!