The new face of UKIP
They are ripe for a persuasive poster campaign and abundantly telegenic for a TV broadcast. It is the sort of defection for which a party leader would engineer all manner of internal selection procedures to ensure high-profile and swift advancement. When the Conservative Party is losing families like this to UKIP - young, vibrant, politically active and holding office - perhaps the Cameron/Maude detoxification/modernisation process has gone a step too far.
For years, UKIP have been dogged with being the Dad's Army of British politics, with their absurd tanks and taxis, buses and balloons, crass campaign slogans, pound badges and a leadership of beer-swilling exhibitionists and elderly cranks. They may not all be, but they certainly have given the consistent appearance of being 'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists'.
But when a former Conservative mayor of the true blue Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead decides to defect, citing the Budget as the 'last nail in the coffin', it merits rather more scrutiny than CCHQ are prepared to give (if they even care). Cllr Catherine Bursnall, and her husband, Cllr Tom Bursnall, said in a joint statement: "After a combined 24 years of loyal service, and having pushed more leaflets through more doors than we wish to remember, it is with some regret that we have this evening decided to leave the Conservative Party and join UKIP. It is no longer the party for the aspirational 'go getter', no longer the moral crusader for a lower taxed nation, and no longer the party that trumps meritocracy over political gesture."
And they are not alone in thinking this, or feeling it. And in an age which is governed by the random emotions of ordinary people, the feeling is rather more important than the thinking. It is perhaps intrinsic to postmodernity that logic and reason are complemented by emotion and appeals to the spiritual, and UKIP is pressing buttons of sovereignty, patriotism and Christian spirituality which the Conservative Party has exchanged for europhilia, environmentalism and gay marriage.
The Conservative Party’s historical focus on the economy, law and order, defence, patriotism, immigration, over-regulation, tax reduction, and their support for private enterprise, traditional marriage and the family, are now largely issues which are barely spoken of. They are harsh, masculine, rugged, abrasive, and no longer constitute the stuff of Tory politics. The modernisation process is concerned with the feminine, the delicate, the touchy-feely policies designed to appeal to the Guardianistas of Notting Hill. Conservative politics is no longer the pursuit of policy that works, but policy that feels right to Francis Maude. And he is spectacularly misjudging the mood of the nation.
At UKIP's recent Spring Conference (the Conservative one was cancelled due to 'lack of interest'), they not only had the star turns of Nigel Farage, distinguished economist Tim Congdon, and the newly-defected MEP Roger Helmer: they boasted a former deputy chairman of Conservative Future, Alexandra Swann, and former chief inspector of schools Sir Chris Woodhead who urged a return to selection by academic ability.
This is not the future of UKIP: it is the present. Going and gone are the bowler hats and caricature gadflies; coming in is a new generation of reasonable, rational, moderate and utterly normal men and women who favour and support low taxation, grammar schools, national defence, patriotism, low immigration, heterosexual marriage, and withdrawal from the EU. You know, the sort of people who might once have voted Conservative.