A long-standing friend of mine is standing for UKIP in a Yorkshire constituency at the coming general election. He views current politics in 18th century terms as the country versus the court parties, with UKIP in the country role.
It seems to me that he and his fellow candidates will attract not only nationalist and populist votes and all who are dissatisfied with the coalition, but also the support of non-conformist chapel people, and in general the backing of the small people as against the millionaires and grandees. The latter now includes the Labour party establishment and Trades Union officials.
How should the traditional parties respond to the new situation? They should emphasise that there are many issues that could best be address on a pan-European scale, for example pollution, energy, migration from Africa and the Middle East, globalisation and sustainability. Preserving peace in Europe remains the urgent priority as recent events in Ukraine, Bosnia and Kosovo all show.
They should make the case for the European Convention on Human Rights, which Britain helped to draft after the excesses of fascism and communism. As for the European Arrest Warrant, with safeguards this could be to our advantage, since there are potentially more continental criminals in Britain than British criminals on the continent. As to freedom of movement and residence, this too could play in our favour. English is already the lingua franca of northern Europe, as it has long been in India and many parts of Africa and the Persian Gulf.
There is much debate about the cost and benefits of our members of the EU. The parties should commission research and produce accurate figures for our net input and benefit gained, showing these perhaps on a per head basis.
We need more than a free trade area, but should seek less bureaucracy and better accountability.