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No tremors in London

06 June 2014

AFTER the earthquake, there is rubble everywhere. But, sometimes, it is the least likely houses that are left standing. How on earth did London not collapse?

The "big three" political parties received a shock recently when they became the "big four". After decent local and excellent European election results, UKIP has become more than a protest vote. Its leader, Nigel Farage, declared the outcome "an earthquake" because "never before in the history of British politics has a party seen to be an insurgent party ever topped the polls in a national election."

And how did this happen? UKIP's campaign director, Patrick O'Flynn, says it is because "A huge swathof the public . . . are desperate for Britain to get back control ofits borders and become a self-governing country again."

But, as the dust settles on the UKIP earthquake, London - as in the Blitz - stands strangely defiant; and it is strange, because the capital is full of the people UKIP is trying to keep out of the country: immigrants. As Mr Farage has observed, when on public transport in the city, you often cannot hear a conversation in English. Immigrants everywhere!

So why aren't Londoners loving UKIP as they should? Suzanne Evans, the party's communities spokeswoman, thinks she knows: "We do have a more media-savvy, well-educated population in London; and they are more likely, I think, to have read some of the negative press that's been about us and I think they've been more likely to believe it."

These words are interesting only for their absurdity; for if Londoners are so media-savvy, why are they swallowing the negative stories without question?

No, the truth is a good deal more disturbing for UKIP, and it's this: when you work alongside an immigrant, or live next door to one, he or she stops being an imagined demon and becomes a real person. I had midnight bust-ups with my Romanian neighbour when I lived in Tottenham. But that was nothing to do with his nationality. He just became very noisy and forgetful of others when drunk, which the English are also quite good at.

The odd truth is that UKIP does not win in areas where immigrants live, but in areas where they don't live but might do, some time in the future. It is an imaginary fear that UKIP thrives on - the worst and most potent fear of all.

I like a national character: I'm with UKIP there. And I'm with UKIP when it reminds us that elections are not just about the economy, but about identity, because identity matters. But to be a national identity worth the name, let it be something unfolding, and quite fearless.

Simon Parke is the author of A Director's Cut (DLT).

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