Politics’ New Rock Star In Referendum Call

When he arrived at the Southampton Guildhall for the South East region count, Nigel Farage was mobbed like a rock star by TV crews from all over Europe.

There were Danes, French, Germans and more. All there to witness the scourge of the EU’s latest poke in the eye for the Brussels elite.

(Actually, in the best rock star tradition, he had already slipped in through a side door, but later staged a grand entrance for the TV cameras and photographers.)

But he has certainly rocked the political establishment, both here in the UK and in the rest of Europe.

Like all showbiz stars, MrFarage basked in his celebrity status. But he’s big box office these days and he knew it was going to be a triumphant night for UKIP and he might as well milk the adulation.

Long before the South East results were declared, some Ukippers in the Guildhall had already opened bottles of pink Champagne. They’d earned it, they told me.

And by the time MrFarage delivered his victory speech from the platform, UKIP had already made major gains all over the country from the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

He declared that his “people’s army” was on the march. And with a clear lead over Labour and the Conservatives in the national share of the vote, MrFarage’s foot soldiers are certainly trampling over the two major parties right now.

Already jubilant when I interviewed him on Sky News shortly after he arrived at the count, he said he wanted an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership “next week”, though at least he admitted that wasn’t going to happen.

With most of the results in, UKIP’s share nationally is about 27.5%, with Labour just ahead of the Conservatives on 25% to the Tories’ 24%.

In another humiliation for Nick Clegg after the drubbing in the local elections, the Lib Dems were pushed into fifth place by the Greens, on just 7% to the Greens’ 8%.

At one point during the night it looked as if the Lib Dems might be wiped out altogether, until a Green Party official at the Southampton count graciously told me their rivals for fourth place had kept one of their MEPs in the South East.

Catherine Bearder turned out to be the Lib Dems’ sole survivor in the European Parliament. When I interviewed her immediately after the South East declaration she seemed shell-shocked.

She put the Lib Dems’ disastrous performance down to people not understanding how the EU works. I suggested to her that they do and they don’t like it.

And no, she insisted, she didn’t blame Nick Clegg for debating with MrFarage on TV and she wasn’t about to back the grassroots internet campaign to oust MrClegg as leader.

Shortly before the South East result was declared, I interviewed Daniel Hannan, the leading Tory MEP in the region. He called for a pact between the Conservatives and Europe.

That has already been rejected by David Cameron and by George Osborne when I asked the Chancellor about a pact at the Conservative spring conference at the weekend.

But the calls for some kind of arrangement or deal are now growing among Conservative MPs and MEPs. At the moment it looks unlikely, though, not least because it’s not in MrFarage’s interest when he’s got the Tories so rattled.

What does David Cameron do now? He’s planning yet another Immigration Bill in the Queen’s Speech next week. But will that make any difference? It looks just like a gesture.

The numbers are stubbornly refusing to come down and some of the proposed measures, like excluding migrants from so-called “poor countries”, look as though they’d breach EU laws.

More concessions to Eurosceptic Tory MPs? There have been plenty of those already and a fat lot of good they’ve done.

An earlier referendum than the one the Prime Minister is proposing in 2017? That pesky David Davis is proposing one in 2016. Some Tory MPs even want it the same day as next year’s general election.

The PM is expected to shuffle his Cabinet and the lower Government ranks after the Newark by-election. Will that do any good? Almost certainly not.

The Conservatives will be relieved, once again, that Labour didn’t do better in the European elections.

And what does Ed Miliband do about a referendum now? MrFarage predicted in his interview with me that Labour would perform a U-turn this autumn and promise a referendum at party conference time.

There will certainly be a debate in the party about that now. And an inquest into why Labour didn’t fight harder against UKIP. Too much attacking Mr Clegg and not enough piling into MrFarage, claim MrMiliband’s critics.

Labour did better in these elections than in 2009. It would be hard to do worse, though. In that year, Blairites like James Purnell were tumbling out of the Cabinet and Gordon Brown was deeply unpopular.

The Labour Party performed strongly in London again, as it did in the local elections. No wonder Boris Johnson is in a hurry to get back into Parliament. On the evidence of these latest elections in the capital, he’d lose if he attempted to stay on in City Hall in 2016.

But the grumbles that MrMiliband is another loser like Neil Kinnock and is on course to lose in 2015 will grow louder inside the shadow Cabinet and on the Labour backbenches. These results do point to Labour falling short next year, as it did in 1987 and 1992 under MrKinnock.

The leader facing the most immediate leadership crisis is MrClegg, though. It seems very few voters – and a dwindling band of his MPs and activists “agree with Nick” these days.

The Lib Dem leader is therefore likely to face a stormy meeting of his MPs after the Queen’s Speech. Some of his critics want Vince Cable to replace him.

MrMiliband is vulnerable to sniping by the feuding factions inside his shadow Cabinet. Some Labour MPs believe the Balls-Coopers, aided by Andy Burnham, are already plotting for an Yvette Cooper-Andy Burnham leadership bid.

I don’t doubt it. But a poll in the Mail on Sunday at the weekend suggested the voters’ choice to succeed MrMiliband is “Labour’s Obama”, Chukka Ummuna.

Mr Cameron is almost certainly safe as Tory leader until after next year’s general election. But Theresa May’s kitten heels are snapping at his ankles after her gutsy demolition of the Police Federation.

That’s how much MrFarage has rocked the three main parties in the local and European elections. Suddenly, MPs in all three parties are bickering and indulging in leadership speculation once again.

Rock star? UKIP may not be a new entry in the charts any more. But it has shot to No. 1 this weekend.

26 May 2014 | 5:42 am – Source: orange.co.uk
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