UKIP, Pierre Poujade and a political class that’s seen to be “out-of-touch”.

20 May 2013

3:49 PM

20 May 2013

3:49 PM

Parliament is a “brothel”. The state is an enterprise of “thieves” engaged in a conspiracy against “the good little people” and the “humble housewife”. Time, then, for a party that will stand up for “the little man, the downtrodden, the trashed, the ripped off, the humiliated”.

Not, as you might suspect, the most recent UKIP manifesto but, rather, the sentiments expressed by Pierre Poujade during the run-in to the 1954 elections to the French National Assembly. Poujade’s party, the Union to Defend Shopkeepers and Artisans,  shocked France’s political elite by winning 2.5 million votes and sending 55 deputies to Paris.

Charles de Gaulle sniffed that “In my day, grocers voted for solicitors; now solicitors vote for grocers”, a sentiment with which David Cameron might this week have some sympathy. Nevertheless, as the General (then in self-imposed exile at Colombey) admitted,  Poujade’s success was “simply one of the signs of endemic revolt generated by the… incapacity of the regime”. The Fourth Republic endured a series of feeble governments; the time was ripe for a populist revolt.

Poujade’s party proved short-lived (though it is also, in some respects, the spiritual ancestor of today’s Front National) but Poujadism remains part of the political lexicon. Poujade’s populism was anti-tax, anti-big business, anti-intellectual, proudly provincial and overwhelmingly suspicious of elites of any kind.

Again, the parallels with UKIP are striking. Poujade even made sure he was photographed drinking wine, in contrast to the milk-swilling Prime Minister Pierre Mendes-France.

UKIP pose Labour and the Conservatives – but especially the latter – a problem that is not liable to be solved by policy manoeuvres.  There is nothing the Tory leadership can do that will outflank UKIP on europe (or immigration). Not without splitting the Conservative party, at any rate. Worse still, the more the party panders to UKIP voters the more it loses sight of the fact that, even now, there remain many more voters in the muddled, middle-ground of British (and especially English) politics than there are on the extreme of either flank.


UKIP’s appeal lies less in policy – Farage is quite happy to admit that a good deal of the party’s platform was written on the back of a fag-packet – than in sentiment. It is a sympathy or, if you prefer, a persuasion. A mentality, not a programme for government. A cry of disgruntled pessimism, not a series of solutions. Accordingly, it can’t be pacified by policy shifts. It is a question of style not of substance. Like Boris Johnson, Farage is an entertainer. This ensures he is judged by different standards.

Which is bad news for David Cameron. The Prime Minister cannot possibly moderate his style to appeal to UKIP voters. They – and in their number we may include a good proportion of UKIP-sympathising Tory backbenchers – already suspect he views them with contempt and they are probably not wrong to think that. Indeed, the more UKIP are vilified the happier they are. Theirs is a politics of the laager or the last redoubt and telling them how foolish they are merely earns the response So what? And who are you anyway?

I fancy UKIP voters suspect Cameron is a privileged but empty suit. They are not wholly wrong about this either. It is certainly easy to rail against a government stuffed with politicians from comfortable backgrounds. If Cameron were a stronger (or at least a more positively defined) leader this might not matter. Nor would it be a problem if the economy were in finer shape. Instead, living standards are being squeezed and there is a sense that even though the government is not hopelessly indifferent to the problems of the lower middle-classes it has no real idea how to assist them.

In such conditions the surprise may be that it took UKIP so long to win even a few dozen council seats in the English shires. For all the government’s good intentions few people would claim that it has enjoyed firm leadership. And in the end a good part of the electorate, however disgruntled they may be, will put up with policies they do not favour if these are at least pursued with vigour by a government strong enough to give the impression it knows what it believes and believes how it can put those beliefs into practice.

Is David Cameron the man to lead that kind of government? Not at the moment he ain’t. Is David Cameron “on your side”? Does he “care about people like you?” Up to a point. Cameron lacks the vocabulary – perhaps, even, the bottom – to talk to “our kind of people”. Or at least it seems as if this is the case.

UKIP are flavour of the month. They will do well at the next european parliament elections too. But publicity and its attendant scrutiny will be the death of them. Nigel Farage may entertain television producers but there comes a point at which the joke begins to wear thin. A protest vote for a political entertainer is fine for council (or european) elections but not quite so appealing at a general election. You might enjoy a night out with Farage but you wouldn’t trust him to drive you home.

Even so UKIP will remain an irritant but, as I say, something like this has been brewing for a while. 2010’s brief bout of Cleggmania was another demonstration of the way in which politics now operates rather as the stock-market did at the height of the dot-com boom. “Traditional” stocks  – that is, political parties – are boring and under-valued; the thirst for the next new thing ensures that said fresh face is immediately over-valued. Everyone, at some level, “knows” this but worries that, just perhaps, they might miss the new thing that really is the next big thing. And so everyone piles in, just to be on the safe side. For now.

And yet even if under-valued, the traditional political parties are still in trouble. This is hardly a British phenomenon. From Ireland to Israel via Italy we have seen the rise of political outsiders who earn some measure of trust – at least for a while – precisely because they are not tainted by any association with the established political system. The brief flickering of the Tea Party in the United States was another example testifying to the frustrations of politics-as-usual and the Republican party’s multiple failures.

Nearly five years on from the financial crash, mainstream parties – of either left or right, though those labels matter less these days – are still looking for answers. Like Iain Martin, I’m surprised Theodore Roosevelt is not mentioned more often these days.

It is astonishing, really, that the financial (and political) elites have not suffered more. Torch and Pitchfork Inc have not prospered quite as much as you might have expected. Doubtless that reflects an appreciation that even political outsiders don’t have the answers either but I suspect it also reveals a certain depressed fatalism that is both disconcerting and problematic for the longer-term health of democratic politics.

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Show comments
  • scotcanadien

    Although ostensibly a critique against Farage, it seems to me to be more like a thinly veiled diatribe against the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon. Too bad though that the SNP has governed Scotland very well during the last 8 years and is unlikely to be a passing fad like Poujadism.

  • Durr

    UKIP are not anti-intellectual.

    • Charles Hedges

      and your evidence…..?

  • Iain Hill

    You all over-analyse, UKIP does not need policies. It needs only a political presence to influence or even stop the idiocies of the major parties.

  • Reconstruct

    I don’t think you can simply elide UKIP with Poujadism, because to do so ignores the fact that very plainly the concept of ‘sovereignty’ is in play, and that is the most fundamental political concept there is. Equating that with an appeal to small shopkeepers is actually pretty insulting.

    It is a profoundly uncomfortable fact that the three major parties simply do not seem to recognize that sovereignty is the issue. If we elect another Conservative government, there seems every reason to believe that the task of regaining our sovereignty will once again be ignored and/or quite possibly ridiculed.

    Mr Farage is, quite simply, right on this issue. And since sovereignty is the most important concept in the political lexicon, it is very likely UKIP will just ‘go away’ as the established parties wish. What’s at stake is fundamental – why can’t they wake up and acknowledge this? It is deeply, deeply, frustrating.

    • Iain Hill

      Poujade’s rise helped bring about the end of the Fourth Republic. Can we hope for some equally radical political change here?

  • Shoe On Head

    in creating a bottom-up political class that isn’t out of touch, where is ukip’s young inspirational talent, paving its way to the party’s future? any new instituitional tsunami rolling across the political landscape, at least long term anyway, ultimately requires this.

    ukip’s biggest issue will be that it is as about as relevant to the country’s youth as farage’s triumph stag convertible.

    (shoe on head)

    • terence patrick hewett

      The electorate is old: the concept that UKIP is supported only by the old and the other parties are supported by thrusting go-ahead youth is quite frankly laughable. And of course this insultingly patronising attitude only encourages the oldies to abandon Lib/Lab/Con and join us at UKIP where they will be appreciated and valued, not insulted.

      • Shoe On Head

        so you advocate ukip represent purely the grey brigade?

        forget it being strategically bankrupt. it is beyond venial sin.

        (shoe on head)

        • terence patrick hewett

          I neither implied it nor advocated it: I merely pointed out that all of the parties are overwhelmingly patronised by old people because the electorate is itself mostly old: UKIP is no different from any of them in respect to age.

          • Shoe On Head

            *raises glass* Pip-pip

            • Wessex Man

              Put shoe on foot and go away back to the NewStateman.

              • Shoe On Head

                kisses, hugs and belly rubs.

                (shoe on head).

              • Iain Hill

                Should be read every Friday in conjunction with the Spectator!

    • Wessex Man

      Put your show on foot and go away.

      • Shoe On Head

        2 sugars and 8 milks please.

  • Daniel Maris

    Thank you Alex for your pearls of wisdom…

    We shall value them in due course –

    “UKIP are flavour of the month. They will do well at the next european
    parliament elections too. But publicity and its attendant scrutiny will
    be the death of them.”

    Let no one say you never delivered hostages to fortune! 🙂

  • thanksdellingpole

    The French will soon be on their sixth republic and I predict it will (obviously be when the EU collapses) be under a Nationalist Le Pen led regime.

  • global city

    Sometimes these fly by nights actually stick though. Look at the Whigs, once themselves just a group, became a party then a party of government, then superseded by the Liberals. Or there is the new centre right party in Canada, which replaced the old conservative party.

    If the UK Independence party can get some better candidates and advisers, if they seriously work on sound libertarian/centre right policies, etc,then there is no reason why they should not replace the Conservative party, which, excepting tradition and there being no right alternative are quite an anachronism in the modern political age.

  • JustAnOtherRandomGit

    Disagree, prolonged financial crashes do cause lasting revolutions in politics, although the outcome might not be obvious half-way through. Who at the beginning of the National Government in the 1930s knew where it was going to lead? Far from being an expression of pessimist reaction, political events now have a bit of the “hold on to your seats feel about them.” The two main parties probably will survive more-or-less intact, but somehow things will never be the same again. I suspect that Thatcherism is pretty much defunct in its present form, although again what will replace it I wouldn’t want to predict.

  • David Lindsay

    Mitterrand gave a job to Poujade, who had endorsed him and who did so again.

  • leoinlisbon

    A more accurate French equivalent of UKIP would be the National Front, which is now a permanent part of the French political mainstream – however much other parties resent this. It has done so by appealing to the same resentments – against an out-of -touch ruling elite, the level of immigration and enthusiasm for European integration.
    David Cameron appears unable to grasp that, by embracing a metropolitan agenda,
    many Tories have concluded that nothing much will be lost if he (and his New Model Toryism) are defeated in 2015.

    • global city

      Such a glib comparison. Labour are now supposed to have concerns about immigration, so, given Labour’s love of big government, state intervention, etc, it is THEY who are much closer to the statist NF of France

  • Austin Barry

    ‘From Ireland to Israel via Italy we have seen the rise of political outsiders who earn some measure of trust – at least for a while – precisely because they are not tainted by any association with the established political system.”

    Ireland? It’s still the same old parish pump election of local dynasties: corrupt, preternaturally dim and culturally parochial.

  • Wessex Man

    I love it, can’t wait for the Euro Elections, the Scottish Referendum and the next General Election. These dishonourable rabble currently residing at Wesmister offer no solutions no answers no hope, only contempt!

  • White Wednesday

    “There is nothing the Tory leadership can do that will outflank UKIP on
    europe (or immigration). Not without splitting the Conservative party,
    at any rate.”

    The Right, once known as The Conservative Party, is already more divided than at any time in modern history. Why do you worry about annoying the diminishing band of Heseltines, Clarkes, and Howes (the latter is once again sharpening his dagger)?

    UKIP’s growth has not accelerated by magic; It has been aided all the way by Cameron’s actions, inactions and outpourings. It will stop when Cameron shoots UKIP’s fox….which means turning the gun on himself and ensuring that Osborne is taken out by the same bullet.

    Only then can we even hope to start healing the rift.

    • Smithersjones2013

      There is no point healing the rift but persisting with the ‘toxic’ Tory brand. If in 2010 there was any chances of rehabilitating it then Camerons action’s and his parties reactions have destroyed them. To the left the Tories are toxic, To the right it is an incompetent dysfunctional broken mess which is increasingly becoming toxic as the rump of the Tory party indulges in the most nihilistic and self-destructive orgy of abuse at those they expect to support them.

      This will take far more than just the heads of Cameron and Osborne (with Clarke for good measure) on a platter.

      The Tory Party is no longer fit for purpose. We need a new settlement.

  • OldLb

    Not without splitting the Conservative party, at any rate.


    Why does having a referenda (democracy) split the Tories?

    Offering a referenda strengthens you hand in the negotiation. After all after a negotiation it has to be put to a referenda since its a change in the relationship.

    What it does is mean that the Lib Dems, who lied their way to power over tuition fees, a referenda etc, have a problem with UKIP. Labour however has a real problem. They stand to lose most

    • D B

      a referendum

  • terence patrick hewett

    I believe what we are witnessing is not the politics of the laager but a genuine bottom-up movement whose object is to change politics and the political class forever and they have gone quite a way on the road to achieving that end. If, and I believe when, UKIP achieves critical mass then you will see some angst. UKIP offers what none of the other parties offer: a clear positive message and an idea of the future. And the enervated political class does not know how to deal with it.

    • perdix

      “a clear and positive message” but no idea how to achieve any goals.

      • terence patrick hewett

        UKIP is a tale that is growing in the telling. You opine that UKIP does not know how to achieve goals but are our our political aristocracy any better? They live in a 19th century world and they have run out of ideas. They are like First World War Generals of Cavalry, struggling to come to terms with poison gas, aeroplanes and
        tanks. They are poor dears, blundering about in a 21st century world that they do not understand. It has to be a function of a political class that is drawn from such a narrow set of experience that they do not understand that an enormous part of our life is now controlled by mathematical algorithms, once set in motion chunter on until they reach their conclusion.
        The inability to understand science and the implications of this is a failure of governance and a failure of leadership at the highest level; financial, political and intellectual. How right C P Snow was when he proclaimed in his lecture The Two Cultures; “If the scientists have the future in their bones, then the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist.”
        It is the smallness of vision, the narrowness of intellect, the simple lack of courage and curiosity that is so contemptible.

        • terence patrick hewett

          Survation have put out a new poll, the topline voting intention figures are CON 24%(-5), LAB 35%(-1), LD 11%(-1), UKIP 22%(+6). The 22% for UKIP is the first poll to show them breaking the twenty percent mark.

    • grammarschoolman

      Politics of the lager, surely? And of the best bitter.

  • Smithersjones2013

    I know they try but it doesn’t matter what flavour of Westminster Freakshow parasite is expressing themselves, the same condescending urban liberal elitist arrogance and dismissiveness oozes from them.

    They just can’t help it I suppose………

  • david.geddes1

    Don’t feed this troll.