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Farage’s Cold Toast

 More splendid news for Nigel Farage. 

This morning: news arrives that the European Union wants an extra cash contribution from Britain of £1.7 billion.  And it wants it now.  Actually by December 1, a forward date which merely offers Her Majesty’s Treasury enough time to work out where it should come from.

Coughing up the extra money is only fair, says the European Commission, because the British economy is performing better than that of every other member country.  It is only like claiming more income tax from someone earning more money, the Commission explains.  The problem with that analogy, of course, is that income tax is an established rate, a liability known to the payer in advance, whereas ‘contributions’ to the EU are apparently calculated at the whim of civil servants in Strasbourg or Brussels.   

We dear, old-fashioned types who believe that Britain should stay in Europe, and that immigration from EU countries is on balance good for the British economy, can only wince over our breakfast toast and marmalade, risking indigestion.  We have been doing a lot of wincing of late.  Mr. Farage, by contrast, has been laughing so much and so often that his toast goes cold and stiff long before he can get round to eating it. 

Yesterday, his toast must have hardened to rock-like density as he gleefully absorbed the news that UKIP’s candidate in the Rochester parliamentary by-election was ahead 13 per cent in the opinion polls.  Or perhaps it was 30 per cent.  I’ve forgotten.  But whatever the lead was, it was wide enough to suggest that UKIP will soon have a second Member of Parliament.  And that probably means the ruling Conservatives may well lose more defectors to Farage’s party, which is fast becoming the People’s Movement that Nigel always wished it to be. 

Getting back to restricting immigration – second on UKIP’s unprinted manifesto after the demand for a referendum on Europe – the figures continue to embarrass the Prime Minister.  David Cameron had promised to cut the figure from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands within two years.  The actuality is that the number just keeps rising inexorably, the tens of thousands he spoke of as a target for total immigration now exceeded by arrivals from Spain, Italy and Portugal alone.

This may have come as a shock, but it could not have been a surprise.  The British economy is creating jobs, while the economies of those three countries, with austerity measures imposed by the EU, are shedding them.  Cameron says unfettered immigration within the EU is unfair.  His European colleagues respond with impeccable logic that free movement of labour is what Britain and the other 27 member states signed up to in the first place.  If I were Cameron, I would not wish to argue the point in a court of law.  He will, of course, one day have to argue it in the court of public opinion. 

If the British general election were to be held next month rather than, as scheduled, next May, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that UKIP would win enough seats to be in a position to dictate terms to a coalition partner.  A frightening thought.  A few months ago it would have been unthinkable.

The election, thankfully, is still some seven months away, but that gives Cameron – and for that matter Ed Miliband’s Labour Party – precious little time in which to steal Nigel’s thunder.  The problem with stealing another man’s thunder is that the thief becomes branded as a man without principle.  And clambering aboard Nigel’s bandwagon to steal the booty is all very well, but he will still be in the driver’s seat.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister can only bleat – and the sound he emits is more and more that of a lost sheep – that he will demand reforms of the EU and base a referendum on what he hopes will be his success in that venture.  Most voters don’t believe he has a cat’s chance in hell, or rather a sheep’s chance in a wolf’s lair.

The muddled debate about Europe and immigration obscures a fact that would normally be a sure-fire vote-winner for any government: a booming economy.  And the Conservatives desperately hope that it will be the economy that overrides all other electoral considerations when the time comes.  The problem right now is that the voters don’t seem to be enjoying the recovery.  Why that should be is debatable.  But Labour – and Farage –make the point very effectively that while more and more people are finding jobs, wages are not keeping pace with the rise in the cost-of-living.  In short, Britain is doing well, but Britons do not believe that they are.

It is hard to see what Mr. Cameron will do next.  UKIP has muddied the political waters so effectively that nothing can be seen clearly.

Scotland may have voted to stay in the United Kingdom, but what kind of Kingdom is it likely to be in the coming years few would venture to guess

Watch this space, is the only suggestion I have.  And cancel the morning newspaper. 

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