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The political role of the purples: As a stalking horse

March 24th, 2014

Corporeal on UKIP

It’s reasonably common, in these cynical times that we live in, to hear someone dismissively remark that politicians are mainly interested in power. It’s a comment that is both often true and also the basic point of politicians. Politics itself is essentially the exercise of power in society in all its various shapes and forms and the proper use of that power is what politicians are fundamentally contesting. It is less a question of how the world should be, and more how it is and could be made better. The search for practical solutions rather than abstract truth.

Politics is the art of the possible, as someone who may or may not have been Benjamin Disraeli  Otto von Bismarck once said, and as with any practical pursuit getting anything done usually involves getting your hands dirty and your clothes (the clothes here being a cunning and subtle metaphor for principles) a bit roughed up.

Politicians genuinely without any interest in power are simply misplaced philosophers/journalists/loudmouths (delete as appropriately as you like). As to whether any politicians become seduced by the trappings of power, you might say that but I haven’t seen the new series yet.

But power comes in many guises, many of them indirect. The focus on UKIP’s ballot box prospects is in some ways misguided since it is only one means to achieve their general aims. The obvious comparison for them here is the Liberal Democrats, through the 1970s and 1980s there existed in Britain a notoriously polarised political party system. Following the re-emergence of a centrist party, both parties pulled hard back to the centre ground.

The history of the Lib Dems through those years is one of no involvement in government and relatively few MPs, but also of significant influence on the positioning of the political battlefields. Equally you can draw comparisons with other emerging parties (the SNP being a relevant example) being able to exercise influence with a limited number of MPs.

This, for the near future, is likely to be UKIP’s primary route of influence and it is one that shouldn’t be dismissed, they will be the ever-present stalking horse of British politics and we’ve seen before how dangerous they can be. Between the European elections and the next General Election we will probably see opponents try to dismiss them as irrelevant, a protest party, a sideshow, (see my previous article about the likelihood of them being excluded from the TV debates).

They will be cast as a dangerous distraction from the main event that by splitting Conservative votes will damage the Euro-sceptic cause. Come the General Election their votes may not stack up very high, but will cast a long shadow.

Corporeal