Mainstream political parties must be spooked by the rise of UKIP, because they’ve paid it the compliment of slander. By describing its members as racist, sexist clowns, they have inadvertently played into its hands. What they have failed to grasp is that their consensus on what respectable opinion looks like doesn’t hold much sway beyond the Westminster bubble and members of the chattering classes. Having spent years browbeating the public into holding the ‘right’ beliefs, they thought they had instilled a refined liberal conscience in everyone. They thought they could turn the searchlight on those who had left the ideological reservation and the nation would recoil in horror.
What they have failed to grasp is that conscience is a perk of prosperity. That’s why liberals have one. They’re rich enough to immunise themselves against the effects of tax hikes, rampant immigration, social permissiveness and dumbed-down schooling. They can busy themselves constructing a pleasing self-image – one that offers the zing of moral superiority and assuages the guilt complex that comes from wafting through life with such ease. The beauty of such superficiality is that it doesn’t require you to think too deeply about the big issues. Just help yourself to pieties from the ethical buffet: a slice of multiculturalism here and a dollop of social justice there, then head back to your table to purrs of approval from your fellow diners.