An important news story has broken in Norfolk. With a very public announcement one of the County’s leading landowners and aristocrats, the Earl of Leicester, has given his backing to UKip. This is not likely to cause many tears in the Labour Party: he was most unlikely to turn up at one of our monthly meetings at the Cromer Community Centre. However the local Conservatives are pretty upset.
Lord Leicester offered an odd cluster of reasons for his conversion. According to the local Eastern Daily Press (EDP), he was ‘really irritated’ that the Government had not committed to spend 2% of GDP on defence; he was also concerned about penalising smokers through the smoking ban. One of the other reasons quoted, while worthy, does seem a little bizarre given the circumstances and direction of his defection. Lord Leicester is against the bedroom tax.
For overseas readers the bedroom tax is a singularly noxious piece of legislation introduced by the coalition government. People in what is known as social housing (rented from housing associations by the less well-off) are now required by law to pay extra money if they have a spare bedroom. This has caused enormous hardship to a small number of people – for example those with a child working away from home but returning occasionally. The tax does not apply to privately owned housing. Lord Leicester has failed to see the irony of his position as a man with many spare bedrooms. His estates definitely do not fall in the social housing sector. So one must assume that, on this issue, he is motivated by concern rather than self-interest. Give the man the benefit of the doubt.
It is harder to give him the benefit of the doubt on UKip’s policies on overseas workers, who are vital to the survival of Norfolk’s agriculture and the hospitality industry. When it was pointed out that he had turned to Eastern European workers at his hotel on the estate, he responded that they were very good but “the calibre of English** candidates was not good enough”. Moreover “one would hope that higher education standards and ‘apprenticeships and so on’ would bring us a better calibre of young person”. Evidently we members of the working class have let him down.
I doubt if Lord Leicester’s change of heart will have much effect at the ballot box – indeed as a peer he is, presumably, unable to vote. However this is yet another indication of the light relief offered by aspects of UKip’s campaign, providing one is prepared to look beyond their nasty xenophobia. One of my sons lives in Islington and sent me a cutting from his local paper. Candidates were invited to offer answers to a range of questions including: ‘What is your local connection to the area’. The UKip candidate for Islington North offered the following response: “My wife and I bought our first home here in 2005, and just love the area. I did my British Citizenship at Islington Town hall.”
**leftyoldman, though living in Norfolk, is irrevocably Welsh