Nigel Farage looms over British politics like a spectre at a feast, if the speakers at Newgate Communications’ latest View from the Bridge: Britain in 2014, are to be believed.
While Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec, believes that the economic signals for 2014 are far more positive that they were only a few month ago, he doesn’t expect George Osborne to show any smugness. “He’s too smart a politician for that,” Shaw argued.
As both Phil Collins, the chief leader writer of The Times, and Deborah Mattinson of polling group, BritainThinks, pointed out, an improving economy isn’t necessarily good news for the Conservatives. Previous elections have shown that when things are going badly, voters turn to the Tories for reassurance. And this is likely to be even more of an issue in the upcoming election in 2015, as Labour is not trusted on economic matters.
Collins argued that Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has successfully turned the debate from the economy to living standards. But this about the only thing he has got right. Miliband has approval ratings so low that Collins feels there is no hope of him recovering enough to be electable.
The only senior politician certain to be in Government after the next election is Nick Clegg. The LibDems, it seems, have turned themselves into a party of government, the only question is who they will be in a coalition with next time.
This transformation for the LibDems is one of the reasons for the rise of UKIP, as voters who are disillusioned with the “political class” turn to a non-politician politician such as Farage. Peter York, the social commentator, gave a good diagnosis of the Farage appeal. He said it was amazing how a former commodity trader – and son of a stockbroker – has made himself such an anti-establishment figure, but the look (Surrey tweed) and voice (RP with an estuary overlay), have been carefully crafted.
Collins believes UKIP will blow up in 2014 but Mattinson said that focus groups show a lot of working class voters are very unhappy with Labour, while the Tories are seen as toxic, creating the opportunity for UKIP. Everyone agreed that UKIP would do well in the European elections in 2014 but disagreed about what they might mean longer term. Mattinson went as far as arguing that we might be seeing the beginning of the end of party politics as we know it in the UK.
Two things all the panellists did agree on were that Scotland would not vote for independence and that there will not be a major cut in income tax before the election. Peter York warned that the man in the street was very angry about the rise of “plutocrats” – be they Russian oligarchs buying up half of Mayfair, bankers ruining the economy or energy company executives pushing up our bills.
Given the tendency for the British press to demonise people, the panellists were asked who might be the bête noires of 2014. Again there was total agreement – “groovy companies” such as Google, Amazon or Twitter.
Well you can’t accuse Nigel Farage of being groovy.
Watch “The View from the Bridge 2014” – bit.ly/1bN19gU
View from the Bridge: Britain in 2014 took place on 27 November 2013. The next View from the Bridge will take place on 20 January, will be on Europe and will feature Nigel Farage as a speaker.