In the aftermath of the UKIP victory, various extinct political dinosaurs have emerged from the mists of time. Today I was watching Michael Heseltine, one of the principal Europhile architects of Margaret Thatcher’s downfall, commenting on UKIP.
People, he said, had been having “a terrible time”.
“Why do you think people have voted for Ukip?” asked Paxo, pointedly.
“It’s the place to go to protest about the way certain things have been happening, which they [the voters] associate with Europe but the real problem is the recession,” said Hezza.
What sort of “terrible time” have people been having? What were the “certain things” they were protesting about? It was as clear as mud. But never mind: the real problem was the recession. And once the economy picked up in time for the general election next year, this year’s UKIP protest vote would melt away.
I’ve been having a terrible time too. It began with my expulsion from polite society on 1 July 2007. Life has been very ugly ever since. It’s a festering sore. And I voted for UKIP last week because they’re pretty much the only party proposing to relax the smoking ban. The smoking ban is the “certain thing” that I was protesting about. And I bet quite a few of my readers were doing exactly the same. In fact, several commented to that effect.
And the man who personifies UKIP happens also to be someone who clearly delights to be seen very publicly smoking and drinking.
You’d think that he was providing some pretty glaringly obvious obvious clues for his popularity. Isn’t it just possible that he’s popular precisely because he smokes and drinks, since a lot of people (who also happen to be voters) enjoy smoking and drinking too? And isn’t it just possible the protest vote was as much against the smoking ban and our current government-enforced killjoy culture as it was against the EU or immigration or anything else?
But I’ve yet to see a single pundit make the connection. It was, they say, a protest against the political class, against immigration, against the EU. Or the recession. It was, in fact, a protest against more or less everything but the smoking ban.
It’s really just like with the pub closures over the past few years (which started in earnest at the end of 2007). People blamed the recession for that too. Or the credit crunch. Or supermarket sales of cheap alcohol. Everything but the smoking ban got blamed for that too.
Does one have to be some sort of Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the UK smoking ban introduced in 2007 was deeply resented by smokers, and many of them have been taking their revenge seven years later by voting for someone who is an unashamed smoker? Or should we call on the services of Hercule Poirot ? Or perhaps even Lieutenant Columbo?
But perhaps even Columbo (who always knew whodunnit from the moment he arrived at any crime scene) would, like Heseltine, pin the blame on the recession?
The problem may simply be that for the largely non-smoking, ex-smoking, or antismoking middle class – which includes both the chattering class and the political class -, smoking is something that is now completely absent from their lives. They don’t smoke at home, and they don’t smoke at work, and they don’t smoke at restaurants or bars or cafes. And nobody else does either. It’s not part of their world. It’s vanished. And smokers have all been expelled from their world too.
And this is why it’s impossible for them to imagine that a smoking ban could have any ill effects. It doesn’t for them, and they can’t imagine it having any ill effects for anyone else either. In fact, they can’t even begin to think about the effect of smoking bans.
We now have, in effect, two entirely separate and distinct cultures. One is a new, ‘progressive’, ‘smoke-free’ culture. And the other is an old, conservative, smoke-filled culture – the culture in which I grew up. And there is zero communication between the two cultures. Yet every advance by the ‘smoke-free’ culture is always at a cost (and very often a considerable cost) to the old smoke-filled culture. And this breeds rising resentment.
And UKIP’s victory has been the resurgence of the old, conservative, smoke-filled culture.
This is something that’s much deeper than the current recession. It’s deeper even than the problem of immigration. And also even the matter of Europe. And it’s not something that’s going to go away any time soon. It’s a completely new (and entirely unrecognised) division in society.
The important question to ask is: what proportion of the population of the UK (or any other country you care to mention) belongs to the new, ‘progressive’, ‘smoke-free’ culture? And what proportion belongs to the smoky old culture? Or, to put it another way, is the old culture a dying culture on its last legs? Or is the new culture an ephemeral upstart that will be prove to be a passing, insubstantial fad? Because that will decide how UKIP’s fortunes will fare next year, and in years thereafter.
For myself, almost all of of my former friends were pretty much fully-paid-up members of the new, ‘progressive’, ‘smoke-free’ culture. Many of them used to smoke, but they gradually quit smoking, one by one. And by the time the public smoking ban was introduced, many of them had already banned smoking in their own homes. And they were as sublimely indifferent – as completely blind – to the subsequent exclusion and demonisation of smokers as any Westminster politician or media pundit.
Many of them were also convinced about the reality of global warming, although I doubt if any of them had any understanding of the physics of it. They simply believed “the experts”. They believed whatever it was fashionable to believe. They were dedicated followers of fashion.
And that inclines me to suspect that the ‘progressive’, ‘new’, ‘smoke-free’ culture will prove to be an ephemeral fashion (like the bell-bottom trousers its adherents used to wear). Because there’s no real substance to it. There’s no foundation. There are no core beliefs. There is in fact nothing at all. It’s completely vacant.
And that means that an older, more substantial, and conservative culture – which has already withstood the test of time -, is likely to re-assert itself, and prevail in the long run.
And in UKIP we are beginning to see the resurgence of the old culture. And so UKIP (or whatever party best represents the old culture) is likely to only grow stronger. So it will play a major part in next year’s general election, and in elections thereafter. And something like UKIP will appear in every other country in which the ‘progressive’ new culture has emerged. And may have done so already.