The English adrift

If it is true that all politics is local, then the recent English local elections have drastically affected the British political landscape, with far-reaching consequences for Europe. The rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is not simply blowing over. UKIP is in fact an English ‘nationalist party’ which - as a driving force against the EU-membership - deeply divides the United Kingdom.

The natural leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage (49), is a member of the European Parliament and sits just a few meters away from me. When I speak on behalf of the group of European Conservatives and Reformists, I sit next to Farage, leader of an anti-European group, which also includes the Dutch SGP. He is a funny guy, speaking with humour, but also with a sharp tongue during debates, in particular when figureheads of the 'European elite' are present. He considers himself a filibuster opposing both the European and the British establishment. He perorates and ridicules. Farage puts up a show arguing for a British exit of the EU and manages to hit all the sore spots of the anonymous bureaucracy. Outside of that, everything is jolly good, as long as a pint of beer stays within arm's reach.

For years Farage was depicted as a clown. Those days are over. He is reaping the fruits from the 'Stockholm syndrome' that influenced Tory leaders. Even long after the Thatcher tenure, British Conservatives kept being haunted by the label of 'nasty party': the heartless and cold party. Political opponents and the media hammered the point home, as the newly elected leader David Cameron had to steer his party back to the political centre through a narrative of compassion and fervour. He accepted the criticism and tried to turn the British Conservatives into the 'not nasty party'. He visited polar bears on the North Pole as part of the battle against climate change. The budget for development aid was ring-fenced, despite the crisis. He took a mild stance in relation to Europe, at least for British standards. Immigration was off limits as a topic during the elections, because it would come across as 'heartless'. The conservative English countryside started to stir. Cameron was paying more attention to the leftist newspaper The Guardian and the pro-European BBC than to sound and solid core of his electorate.

Then Cameron also decided to introduce gay marriage. He characterised UKIP as a party of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". The Stockholm syndrome created a gap with the conservative grassroots from which Farage took advantage. Conservative sponsors deserted and started financing UKIP. During the recent election campaign, conservative candidates had doors slammed in their faces by loyal voters. The conservative core electorate feels abandoned and betrayed. Cameron became ‘Blair-light’: Farage embodies the protest.

Dark clouds are gathering above the British Isles. It is not unlikely that during the European election of 2014 UKIP will become the big winner, while the conservatives will suffer major losses. That will happen three months before the referendum on Scottish independence and one year before the British parliamentary elections.

The local victory of UKIP has a huge psychological impact. In the British Parliament there is unrest on the benches of the Conservatives. Those in favour of an exit want a 'mandating referendum' ahead of the 2015 parliamentary elections, giving Cameron the task to renegotiate the British position in the EU. The principle of a ‘in or out referendum’ has to be enshrined in law. Others, among them former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, go even further and demand a binding referendum on the membership of the EU right now, and not only in 2017. Lawson is in favour of the exit and makes this position 'respectable'. Labour too is under pressure to take a stance on the binding referendum on EU-membership. Farage gained at the expense of Conservatives, but also of Labour, the official opposition party. The British still have to get used to the phenomenon of a coalition government, but forming a government might be even harder in 2015. No one can predict the impact of UKIP next year.

As a result of political upheaval on the English countryside and in its provincial cities, Scottish nationalists receive a boost. They say: "if the English want to abandon the EU, we will leave the United Kingdom to become a member of the EU." UKIP as an exponent of English nationalism may well push the Scottish to reconsider their position. The United Kingdom will then be limited to England, Wales and the religious quarrel zone of Northern Ireland.

The EU-question will in the end tear the UK apart, much to the delight of the European elite in Brussels. A final act to the ever shrinking British Empire.