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Does anyone remember the 'Tea Party' coup that befell the Obama administration in 2010? A recap : The US economy was performing horribly, Obama's stimulus package had failed to produce it's expected short term effects and the Democrats hadn't shown much of the reforming tenacity they had promised in 2008. The result? Obama lost control of Congress, and the thumping majority held by the Democrats had all but diluted. Instead, the US was left with a new cohort of Republican candidates, directed and funded by an ideologically radical 'Tea Party'. That movement, which claimed its intention to 'restore' constitutional values through reforming the Republican Party, then went on to lose the 2012 election by a considerable margin.
It seems that something remarkably similar is now happening on our shores. UKIP's victory in the local council elections last month continue to send cold shivers to the Tory party. Now, backbench revolts aren't anything new. Historically, both Conservatives and Labour have had to deal with their own rebellious MPs, especially Gordon Brown, whose premiership saw the highest level of party rebellions- including a fair amount of planned coups, in post-war political history.
Backbench, inter-party disputes are for the most part, easy to deal with. What David Cameron currently faces is a different beast entirely; while sustaining attacks from both his party and the press, one thing he can't seem to quell is who's pulling the strings. Enter UK politics' own mad hatter, Nigel Farage - a charismatic, but ineffectual troll turned Machiavellian whose stated ambition is to stage an ideological coup of the Conservative party. Which means spending less time with the dwindling number of 'progressive Cameronites' and more time chatting to disenchanted Tory voters. Farage, just like many of the Tea Party Patriots, has found that the most effective way to talk to a disenchanted grassroots is by personally relating politics to their lives, even if that means overstating the effects of an EU exit, immigration freeze and... that's pretty much it. With a pint and a ciggie, that type of soft power might give Joseph Nye a run for his money.
Following the Tea Party, Farage's strategy has reaped its short term gains. In the US, the new right-wing radicals helped build the foundations of the GOP's 2012 strategy. Similarly in Britain, UKIP seem to be determining the shape of the Tories come 2015, only vocalised through the mouthpiece of former Tory beasts, Nigel Lawson and Michael Portillo. In the most recent debacle over the Same Sex Marriage Bill, where less than half of his backbenchers supported him, the Prime Minister is facing even more criticism for supposedly prioritising "socialist" policies. To the Tory old guard and their activists, many of whom belong to an older generation, returning to a morality politics anchored in tradition offers the clearest route to electoral salvation. It's the same sort of principle that guided John Major's "Back to Basics" ethos, only this time guided by mischievous political phantoms, rather than party sleaze.
General elections are a completely separate kettle of fish - not simply because of its national focus, but also that the British public are less likely to take risks in voting for radical parties. Though bleeding hearts on both sides make no attempt to hide their contempt for centre politics, it still remains a determining factor for any party wishing to seek office. In addition, the increasing number of young voters- many from diverse social and ethnic backgrounds - demands a reasoned, rational and inclusive politics. While UKIP risk losing their core constituency through changing their flagship policies after their surge, the Tories still have a fair amount of time to claim the centre ground to secure a majority in 2015. Spooked as he might be, Cameron is probably better off staying on course.