Monday, 26 May 2014
The implications of the performance of UKIP in the European elections has the potential to change politics in the UK. It shows what substantial shift in public opinion has happened but, perhaps, it also shows that the majority of voters do not favour the UKIP message? Nonetheless, it is highly plausible that there will be a change in the political landscape and that euro-scepticism will prevail in some of the mainstream parties.
That scepticism could well extend to the debate over climate change and the measures necessary to improve resilience to environmental change. Indeed, we have seen some of this already with Conservative policy clearly shifting away from land-based renewable energy that might actually make a difference. Labour policy too, tends to overlook the fact that the costs of energy are high because previous administrations have felt it essential to increase tariffs to support greater energy efficiency. So, neither of the two main parties really offer much hope of an increase in effort to reduce carbon emissions. The UKIP success almost certainly reinforces the pressure on these parties to shift towards the 'buy now, pay later' approach to politics. But, we cannot have our cake and eat it – failure to change consumption patterns now will be expressed in the world's climate in years to come; when the next generation picks up the tab for our greed!
Perhaps there is a more immediate problem to consider? Should UKIP's objective of leaving the European Union be achieved, there could be far more profound implications for the natural environment. At the moment central funding for maintaining and enhancing the natural environment depends to a very large extent upon EU agricultural subsidies. There can be no guarantee that a post-EU government would direct so much money into positive agri-environment schemes. That would be a big cost-saving and, as we have seen in the past four years, it is environmental programmes that have taken the highest pro-rata hits to re-balance the economy. Loss of this budget would have a huge impact and could only mean one thing: a further diminution of Britain's wildlife.
Not only would there be a possible loss of financial support for wildlife, but there might well be revocation of the Habitats Directive. Indeed, I think one can consider that an inevitable result; and, as we have seen on several occasions in the past four years, decision-making will almost certainly favour development at the cost of wildlife conservation.
For me, the success of UKIP last night is extremely worrying. I don't subscribe to the view that they are necessarily xenophobic. I think the vote for UKIP illustrates how little human beings have evolved over millennia. We are still a highly tribal animal; and, when the lands or prospects of a tribe are threatened they respond. In the past that response has been war. Today, we must hope that war is not the result, but internal tensions are being expressed by the rising emphasis of rhetoric about immigration and being ruled from a body to which people feel no affinity. It is therefore of paramount importance that the political elite start to wake up to the causes of the popularity of UKIP and consider how to address the concerns of those 'tribes' who are most seriously affected by EU law and policy.
Events in Austria, Denmark France and Greece show how there is rising disaffection elsewhere, and some of that disaffection is very worrying. The spectre of the re-emergence of the Far Right should be a key political consideration for the Eurocrats. Hopefully it will make Europe more responsive to the need to adjust the integration programme back to a level that recognises national sovereignty and 'tribal' boundaries. As it stands, I think it is heading towards the point where the great social experiment disintegrates because the political classes have imposed social policy that fails to recognise that mankind has a very thin veneer of civilisation and a hard-wired tribal mindset.
The political classes are, in effect, the tribal 'elders'. At this point they must start to use wisdom and connection to the people who have sent the powerful message a vote for UKIP has sent. It is not a matter of yet more weasel words and the rhetoric of 'getting their message over'. People have heard the message and have given their response, so it is time for new messages – a policy refresh that identifies honestly what is deliverable and what is the strategic objective over a series of administrations; heaven forbid, even perhaps some common agreement between parties on the key objectives for the governance of the country!
With this in mind, I think there is a need for the mainstream parties to set out their vision for governance should there be a referendum and the country votes to leave the European Union. From an environmental perspective, clearly there could be several un-wanted side effects.