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Farage doesn't have a mask

No surprise that UKIP did well in the local elections. It was anticipated. It would be wrong to dismiss it as a 'simple' protest vote - something is afoot. Old party loyalties are being broken. What is striking is how easy it has been for Tory voters to switch to UKIP. The worry for Cameron is that, according to a YouGov survey so many of them will not return for the general election next year - well we will see.

Labour should be worried too but their result in the local elections has been better than many had thought in large part because they did well in London where UKIP did badly. On the basis of the local election results, and that should always be treated with caution, the Lib Dems would lose about 20 seats in the general election - hardly the stuff of what Nick Clegg likes to call 'a party of government'.

Nick Clegg has said that Nigel Farage's 'Mask has slipped'. Frankly Farage doesn't have a mask which is why he is appealing to voters who believe that politicians don't tell it straight. And even if he does and the mask slips the problem for the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour is that too many voters like what they see.

UKIP is tapping into some genuinely felt discontent. Unless the main parties address that then normal politics won't be resumed for some time, even supposing it would be a good thing.

Essentially Farage and UKIP are in a win-win situation. If they are dismissed as racist then it appeals to a deeply felt concern that immigration is challenging local communities and identities. The reality of statistics doesn't make any difference. If people feel 'threatened' there is no point in telling them they have nothing to fear. It simply adds to the feeling of disconnection of politicians at Westminster.

For many 'multiculturalism' is synonymous with their own communities and culture being challenged. They feel 'swamped' whether it is statistically correct or not. In politics 'feeling' matters.This is why Farage's use of statistics works no matter how barmy. If people feel there is a 'threat' from massive EU migration then that is what they feel and frankly they don't believe it when they are told they are wrong. This is one reason why Farage bested Clegg in the debates - statistics were irrelevant and Mr Farage knows it. When he said that over 400 million EU citizens could move to the UK he was strictly speaking correct no matter how absurd the notion that they would. What people are concerned about is that they could not that they necessarily would - and there you have the conundrum for Cameron, Clegg and Milliband. Many people feel that the UK is 'an overcrowded island' and that immigration is a problem. It isn't easy to persuade them otherwise when their children cannot afford to buy a home.

The left in British politics need to square the circle. It can't go on ignoring the issues. But the key question is how - that is not easy to answer!

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