On BBC Breakfast News this morning, blues musician 'Seasick Steve' was interviewed. A rough and ready elaborately-bearded, and undoubtedly talented American guitarist, Seasick Steve had slept rough and made his own guitars before getting a big break in 2006 on a British music programme. He has since gone on to considerable commercial and critical success. In the interview, the presenter gave the somewhat obvious analysis that Seasick Steve's success was due, in large part, to the fact that he came at a time of manufactured pop-bands and sleek, all-pervasive marketing. He was, put simply, a whiff of authenticity in a world of clones.
Half an hour earlier, another interview on the programme was far less cozy. Paul Nuttall (MEP), Deputy Leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) was on to discuss his party's impressive showing in the English local elections, where they were set fair to upset all the major parties. He was given a rather bumpy ride, with the sort of hostile questioning that representatives of the major parties rarely encounter.
UKIP is a peculiar phenomenon, which the political and media elite are keen to dismiss simply as a good old fashioned protest vote; the kind of mid-term slap down from the voters that is traditionally expected in the local elections, a chance for the voting public to hurl their virtual tomatoes at their politicians without any fear of serious consequences (except for local government). Another BBC commentator even described UKIP as 'plebeian' - bringing to mind Bertolt Brecht's line that "the people had forfeited the confidence of the government" so the government should "dissolve the people and elect another".
But, such arrogant complacency is very misplaced. I would argue that UKIP is far more than just a reflexive public protest. Though its origins lie in a rejection of the EU, and this issue undoubtedly still forms a core of its support, it seems to have grown into a much more profound revolt against the Westminster political elite and the supposed 'liberal consensus' that they espouse. It is as much a rejection of the 'smooth operators' of Westminster: the expensively educated Camerons and Osbornes and Milibands, as it is a rejection of the identikit policies that they appear to represent: EU orthodoxy, gay marriage, 'diversity' and all the rest. UKIP is in many ways a revolt against political correctness itself. And Westminster needs to take note, not just hide behind the old cliches and slogans, and hope that it will go away.
So - to return to 'Seasick Steve' - stretching the analogy somewhat, UKIP might be seen as the 'Seasick Steve' of British politics: a popular rejection of the bland, the manufactured and all that which is perceived as false and mendacious in Westminster. But, as such, it must be prepared for a rough ride both from the media and from its political rivals. Break the mold in music and you will be hailed as a visionary, but break the mold in politics and you risk being cast as a dangerous heretic.