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Saturday, May 4, 2013

David Cameron won't prosper by trying to outkip the Kippers | Andrew Rawnsley

Both the Tories and Labour have several reasons to be troubled by the Ukip surge – and one to be grateful for it

Depending on who has been speaking, and their taste in hyperbolic metaphors, the surge to Ukip is either a "sea change" in British politics or it is a "seismic event".

To which I say: take a cold shower and calm down. Nigel Farage is understandably elated – and the established parties are naturally stunned – by Ukip's performance in the county council elections, but it is deserving of neither comparisons with earthquakes nor quotes from Shakespeare. A sea change is what happened when Jim Callaghan was booted out by Margaret Thatcher at the general election of 1979 to usher in 18 years of Conservative rule. A seismic event is what occurred when Tony Blair won the general election of 1997 by the largest parliamentary landslide in modern history. On Thursday, Ukip won just shy of a quarter of the votes in local government elections mainly confined to the shires of England, in which a third of the potential electorate turned out. That is clearly noteworthy, but it is extremely premature to start jabbering that this is a historic turning point.

No doubt Ukip's leader would retort that this is typical of the condescension that his party has received from those who dwell inside the "Westminster bubble". Actually, I've never dismissed them. I forecast many months ago that they were very likely to top the poll in next year's Euro-elections, a prediction that then looked a bit bold, but is now hardening into a consensus expectation. I fully expected the Farageists to do very well in these county contests. My point is that there is a very important difference between a local election upset, even a big one, and events that recast the political landscape forever.

Several forces are at work, some fairly particular to this moment, some more deep-seated, which have been powering Mr Farage's gang. One is the desire of a section of the electorate to thrust an angry two fingers up at the entire political establishment. That urge is especially intense when a government is at midterm, there is a tight squeeze on living standards and there is no great enthusiasm for the principal party of conventional opposition. The beneficiaries in the past were usually the Lib Dems and sometimes other parties, such as the BNP and the Greens and Ukip itself, which did very well at the Euro-elections of 2004 and 2009 only to fizzle out by the time of the general elections a year later. Since the Lib Dems made the transition from party of protest to party of government, that vote has been in need of a new way of expressing itself.

Before Thursday, Mr Farage seemed generally content to accept the idea that his party was principally a party of protest, suggesting his main aim was not to win parliamentary seats but to draw the other parties, especially the Tories, on to his agenda. In the wake of the results, he has been emboldened to claim they are an endorsement of his party's "positive policy solutions".

I don't think so, Nigel. I have a hunch that Ukip did not attract support because of its plans for the health service or its industrial strategy. Actually, it is more than a hunch. Polling of Ukip voters by YouGov finds that less than 10% of them back the party because they think it "would run the country well" and more than 60% say a main reason to support Ukip is because they are "unhappy with the major parties" or want to "send a message".

The arrival of four-party politics in England, something the Welsh and the Scots have been used to for more than a generation, certainly poses big challenges for those established parties. Ukip voters are not coming only from the Tories, but their principal effect is to split the vote on the right. The Conservatives, who did such a good job of persuading people to reject electoral reform in the referendum two years ago, may live to regret not embracing the alternative vote.

The Tories are more confused and divided than ever about how to respond. They have tried attacking Ukip, but labelling them as "clowns", even if often true, only seems to enhance their appeal as an anti-establishment party. The new Tory line, scripted from the top, is to be polite. So they are now fruitcakes whom the prime minister "respects".

The right of his party are predictably clamouring for David Cameron to get into an auction for Ukip voters. Here they go again. Be tougher on immigration. Slash even deeper at welfare. Scrap gay marriage. Harden up or advance the pledge to hold a referendum on membership of the European Union. They clearly did not notice that chasing after Ukip voters is exactly what the Tories did during the local election campaign. There was the clumsy announcement of the termination of international aid to South Africa, noises about toughening up prison regimes and cracking down harder on welfare and immigration, and suggestions of firming up the pledge on a EU referendum – all moves designed to woo the Ukip-inclined. The Tories tried the same at the Eastleigh byelection and it didn't work then either. As I've remarked before, you can't outkip the Kippers. If Mr Cameron succumbs to the internal pressure to move right, he risks further diminishing the appeal of the Tory party to the centrist voters without whom he cannot possibly hope to win a general election in 2015.

The better Tory strategy would be to focus on the fact that Nigel Farage is not going to become prime minister. This won't stop him demanding a place in any televised leaders' debate, but I would wager as many pints as he can drink between now and May 2015 that he is not going to be kissing hands with the Queen. The majority of Ukip voters tell pollsters that the Conservatives are their second-choice party. That gives Tories reasonable grounds to hope that many can be won back at a general election, when they will present the choice as a binary one between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. There is only one problem with this strategy. It requires the Tories to keep their heads and holding their nerve is something they find hard to do for two minutes, never mind two years.

In terms of what they indicate about political enthusiasm and momentum, these elections are also troubling for Labour. Ed Miliband's people can point to some encouraging performances in key battleground areas in southern England such as Harlow in Essex and Hastings in Sussex. But Labour's overall performance was underwhelming. While most obviously a threat to the Tories, Ukip is also attracting support from less affluent, traditionally Labour voters. What ought to worry Ed Miliband a lot is that these "squeezed middle" voters are precisely the people whom he has been targeting for nearly three years now. A significant slice of them prefer Mr Farage's beer-swilling, right-wing populism to the Labour leader's theorising about a new paradigm of capitalism. Sticking the Labour leader on a pop-up soap box – it is actually a pallet – has not solved the problem. A lesson for Labour to learn from the Ukip leader is that it is essential to translate ideas and policy into accessible language that can be sold on the doorstep.

It is for the Lib Dems that these results have the most paradoxical implications. They lost another slew of councillors and were humiliated at the South Shields byelection, coming in seventh, only just ahead of the Monster Raving Loonies. Yet in terms of the larger picture, there are a few glimmers of encouragement for Nick Clegg's party. They did better in areas where they hold parliamentary seats. Neither the Tories nor Labour show a convincing capacity to mobilise enough voters behind them to justify any confidence that they can win a parliamentary majority. That is a strong pointer towards the next general election producing another hung parliament.

The big challenge for all the established parties is how to deal with the "anti-politics" mood that Ukip is feeding off, the resentment felt by many voters that Britain is run in their own interests and those of their friends by a lookalike metropolitan elite who are all implicated in the economic mess. It is quite amusing that this vote should flow to Ukip. Its leader is a very well-paid MEP, who is never backward in putting in for his expenses, the son of a stockbroker who went to private school, used to trade commodities and likes to prance around in a green Barbour and a fedora. Ukip's treasurer, Stuart Wheeler, is a multimillionaire old Etonian who lives in a Jacobean castle. These are rather unlikely characters to be the tribunes of the people against the political class that Ukip claims to despise.

Ukip may be inhabited by oddballs, the unsavoury and worse, but there is one sense in which the mainstream parties should be grateful to this particularly English way of protesting. Across Europe, austerity is fuelling a revolt against the political establishment that is manifesting itself in surges of support for the hard left or the far right – parties such as Marine Le Pen's Front National in France and the fascist Golden Dawn in Greece. We will have done well if Ukip is as ugly as it ever gets here.


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Greek Police Fear Boston Episode


Greek Reporter

Greek Police Fear Boston Episode
Greek Reporter
ath bost In the wake of the bombing of the Boston Marathon by terrorists, Greek police said they are worried that a similar attack could happen and have stepped up their scrutiny of Islamist extremists, authorities said. The Boston bombing, the ...


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Nigel Farage: how one man changed British politics

Ukip's success in the local elections surprised many – but not its leader. Nigel Farage is the UK's newest political celebrity

When Nigel Farage needs a break he heads out to sea. Yesterday after 24 hours of wall-to-wall media appearances he drove to the south coast and went fishing in the Channel with friends. It was the only place he could be sure of being out of mobile phone contact.

"I turn the bugger off," he told the Observer. "It clears the head. When I am out there I don't think about anything except what bait to use, what lure to use and why some other bloke is catching more than me. It makes me get very competitive again."

Farage was briefly cutting himself adrift from politics after his party, Ukip, had stirred up the waters as never before by securing a stunning 23% of the vote in Thursday's local elections. Farage had predicted that Ukip would take at least 14% a couple of weeks ago, which many had thought was wildly optimistic.

But it exceeded his wildest dreams, increasing its number of council seats from eight to 147 overnight, eating into the Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat support across the country and redrawing the local government map. For the first time ever, none of the mainstream parties took more than the 30% of the vote. Labour secured 29%, the Tories 25% and the Lib Dems 14%. Nothing like it had happened before.

Up until this weekend experts had doubted Ukip's ability to establish itself as more than a protest party, and believed that it would fade at the 2015 general election, as it had in 2010. But those experts are changing their tune.

Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics, said: "I am normally cautious but I do think the tectonic plates are shifting. There is definitely a change going on. The share of the vote of the main two parties has been declining since the 1950s. But it is now even lower than it was at the height of the scandal over MPs expenses in 2009. You can half imagine David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg having to have a meeting to think what to do as Ukip is hurting them all."

On Thursday afternoon, when voting was still underway, a Ukip official rang Radio 4's Today programme asking if it wanted Farage on the show the next morning and was given a non-committal response. At 5.55am on Friday, as it was clear Ukip was making big inroads, Today rang back to book Farage in for a prime slot.

"They had woken up to the fact that we really were the story," said Gawain Towler, Farage's spokesman.

So what, for the man at the centre of it all who seems to appeal more to voters whatever is thrown at him, had been the biggest lesson? "Simple. It is that the rest of them don't speak the same language as normal people," he said. "They can't connect with people out there. The change that has happened to people's lives from immigration is extraordinary, but the other parties have nothing to say about it. They make vague promises and don't deliver."

The Ukip leader may have been a member of the European parliament since 1999 but he loves to present himself as cut off from the "political class", or what he often refers to as "the establishment elite". In one of his BBC TV appearances on Friday afternoon Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat energy secretary, - evidently non-plussed by the excitable man sitting opposite and lapping up his success - asked how many seats Farage thought Ukip would win at the next general election. "I have no idea," Farage barked back with something between a grin and a scowl. "I am not a professional politician like you."

This is the nightmare facing the Tories, Labour, and the Lib Dems. Farage is breaking the mould not just by speaking about the need to withdraw from the EU but by not being one of them. He is the bloke talking common sense on the street, the fellow who goes fishing on his day off.

Towler noted the terror written on the faces of his Tory, Labour and Lib Dem opponents throughout Friday: "What you saw was a recognition from the other parties that we have to deal with these buggers, but they have not the faintest idea how to do it. Nigel does not fit with their game, their way of doing things. He is different. He doesn't do focus groups."

Yesterday on the streets of Huntingdon, where Ukip's surge had deprived the Tories of control of Cambridgeshire council, people spoke well of Farage, who visited the town two weeks ago. "You don't see many people wearing yellow corduroy trousers and tweed jackets around here," said Graham Tibbitt, 60. "He's a breath of fresh air. I voted Ukip. He's better than the usual stodgy men in suits."

This weekend, whatever Farage's desire to position himself as an outsider, Ukip has landed at the heart of British politics. His party may still have no seats at Westminster seats but it is a big step nearer getting one. It is confident of emerging with the largest share of the votes at next year's European elections, a result that would cause even deeper trauma inside the Tory party than it is experiencing now. Farage will then stand at the 2015 election.

He is demanding the right to appear alongside Cameron, Miliband and Clegg in pre-election TV debates – something that could persuade Cameron to ditch them altogether, leaving himself open to charges of cowardice. Like the Lib Dems have done since the 1980s, Ukip is putting down roots in local government and it is the first stage on a journey.

"What I have always said is that if we establish a bridgehead in the county councils we can have a serious tilt at winning a Westminster seat," explained Farage. "We have done that."

Ukip's rise under Farage is not a lone phenomenon in the EU, though that will be of little comfort to the mainstream parties. Populist politicians are on the rise all over Europe as people have seen leaders and institutions, domestic and European, unable to deal with the economic crisis.

Disillusion has mixed lethally with a sense of dislocation from power. Faith in remote institutions has been eroded as insecurity has grown. New parties unconnected with the establishment have cashed in. In Italy this year, Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement scored more than 25% in the national election and is the country's single largest party.

In Greece, Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Greek leftwing movement, is polling at 20%. In France last year, Marine Le Pen scored 18% in the presidential election and is now powering ahead against Fran├žois Hollande, while in the Netherlands Geert Wilders' Freedom Party is polling at 15%.

Jamie Bartlett, of the thinktank Demos, who has studied populist movements in the EU, talks of "declining trust in the way politics is done, and a feeling that the institutions that govern our lives don't represent us any more. People want someone who seems authentic, ordinary, like them."

Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, said the combination of economic crisis and bad governance by EU leaders had created the ideal climate in which populism could grow. He said: "We have a weak economy, weak leadership and a very badly run EU. It would be very surprising if there were not these populist movements growing up."

So how to stop Farage? Do the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems react or just sit back and hope that a party with few developed policies beyond getting out of the EU and barring more Romanians and Bulgarians coming to this country will implode under greater scrutiny?

Next year's European elections are now a terrifying prospect for the Tories. Already this weekend, Tory Eurosceptics are demanding that Cameron brings forward a referendum on Europe to May 2014 to show he is serious about change, and to spike Farage's guns. David Ruffley, the Tory MP for Bury St Edmunds, said action from Cameron was needed now because voters had not noticed the prime minister's previous commitment to an in-out referendum in 2017.

"The Ukip insurgency is real and it is serious," he said. "In 12 months' time, at the European elections, we will have another dose of this. We must act now."

Ruffley, like other Tories, including former leadership candidate David Davis and former cabinet minister John Redwood, wants Cameron to push a bill through parliament for a "mandate" referendum, to be held on the same day as the European poll, which will ask people whether they want to empower Cameron to go to Brussels and demand powers back from the EU over everything from policing, to employment, the EU budget and immigration. It would show he means it, they say.

Already the Tories, under the management of their new Australian strategist Lynton Crosby, are moving right and ditching policies unpopular with the party. In a major U-turn they have decided not to legislate to bind future governments to commit at least 0.7% of GNP to international aid despite repeated pledges to do so. The dilemma for Cameron is how far he can go to the right without being seen to abandon the centre ground and with it the modernisation of the party which was supposed to define his leadership.

For Labour and the Lib Dems too, Ukip poses profound questions. If the Tories commit to a referendum sooner than currently envisaged, can Miliband, or Clegg risk going into the next election without shifting to a much more euro-sceptic position well before then? This weekend both parties insist that they will not be swayed by Ukip and will stand firm with existing policies.

"I think what we need is not to obsess about Europe for the next year, but to focus on what people really care about, which is living standards," said a Lib Dem official.

Farage, meanwhile, is enjoying looking on at the panic and havoc he is causing. "They're all trying to protect their seats but that is not what bothers me," he said in another jibe at the political class he pretends not to be a part of. "I just came into politics to make a change."


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'Worst is over' claims Greece ahead of IMF health check


Telegraph.co.uk

'Worst is over' claims Greece ahead of IMF health check
Telegraph.co.uk
The IMF has praised improvements to Greece's much- maligned tax collection procedures, according to reports in the Greek media this weekend. Mr Stournaras said attempts to fix the country's parlous public finances are starting to bear fruit, and could ...
Greek Minister Sees Signs of RecoveryWall Street Journal

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In Midst Of Kris Jenner's New Wig Hype, Kardashian Mom Documents Greece Trip


SheKnows.com

In Midst Of Kris Jenner's New Wig Hype, Kardashian Mom Documents Greece Trip
SheKnows.com
Kris Jenner and her family made famous by Keeping Up With The Kardashians have kept busy during a trip to Greece, as is evidenced by several Instagram shots posted to the Twitter pages of several family members. But nobody seems to really care about ...
Kris Jenner Wears New Shoulder-Length Wig On Family Trip To GreeceThe Inquisitr
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German Neo-Nazi Group to Stand Trial for Murdering Turks and Greek Immigrants


IBTimes.co.uk

German Neo-Nazi Group to Stand Trial for Murdering Turks and Greek Immigrants
IBTimes.co.uk
Beate Zschape, the alleged ringleader of the National Socialist Underground, will face charges with four others in one of Germany's most high profile trials since World War Two. The victims, eight of whom were Turkish and one Greek, were all shot in ...


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Greek Lifetime Job Guarantee In Peril


Greek Lifetime Job Guarantee In Peril
Greek Reporter
The problem has been that Greek workers, under the Constitution, enjoy lifetime jobs and can't be fired for virtually any reason – including faking credentials, not coming to work at all, committing murder, being insubordinate, or just sitting on their ...


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IMF Says Greece Making Progress


Greek Reporter

IMF Says Greece Making Progress
Greek Reporter
IMF The International Monetary Fund, one of Greece's international lenders, has reported that for the first time since austerity measures were imposed three years ago to get bailouts, that the country is beginning to slowly improve its antiquated tax ...

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After Boston tragedy, Greece school displays its caring


After Boston tragedy, Greece school displays its caring
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Amy Lembo, a physical education teacher at Longridge Elementary School in Greece, guides a fourth-grade class through a lesson on basketball. Lembo was running her first Boston Marathon this year when the deadly explosions occurred. When she ...


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Virtual Reality Comes To Greek Easter Eggs


Greek Reporter

Virtual Reality Comes To Greek Easter Eggs
Greek Reporter
The clinking of eggs, or tsougrisma in Greek, is a tradition to express love and reconciliation that sweetens human relationships during the holy days of Easter. The Greeks of the Diaspora may be many kilometers away from their homeland, their families ...


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Greek Prison Escapee Nabbed After Robbery


Greek Reporter

Greek Prison Escapee Nabbed After Robbery
Greek Reporter
Ermal Lita Greek police on May 3 caught an escapee from the Trikala prison who was later involved in a shoot-out in which a 25-year-old woman died. Authorities said Ermal Lita was apprehended after robbing a grocery store in the western Athens ...

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Greece Dares to Hope


Greek Reporter

Greece Dares to Hope
Greek Reporter
tromaktiko4117 The Economist published one more article about Greece on May 4. This article, on a somewhat different wavelength, had the title Greek economy: Daring to hope, fearing to fail, and focused on the prevalent situation in Greece, the hopes ...


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'Nazi Bride' case highlights rising influence of women in Germany's far-right movement

MAINZ, Germany -- Dubbed the "Nazi Bride," Beate Zschaepe has become the face of right-wing militancy in Germany.The 38-year-old woman is allegedly the sole surviving member of the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi terror cell accused of a seven-year racist killing spree.On Monday, Zschaepe will go on trial accused of complicity in the murder of eight ethnic Turks, a Greek and a policewom...
    



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