He always offends, and likes to – but this time his chief transgression against suburban taste was to criticize “health tourism”, whereby foreigners who have never contributed to the UK Treasury turn up in London expecting (and almost always receiving) highly expensive treatments. He told us, it seems accurately, that 60% of HIV patients in the UK were foreign-born, at a cost of £25,000 per person per annum, and that maybe the National Health Service should actually be a national health service.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” snapped Leanne Wood, her raisin eyes suddenly stone as she switched from jam-maker to witch-finder – secure in the knowledge that sufferers are likelier to demand retrovirals in London than in Llandudno. She was quicker off the moralising mark than some of the others, who did not confect and Tweet their humanitarian horror until hours later. The comment was “disgusting”, typed Ed Miliband then. “He should be ashamed. The fact he isn”t says so much.” Not to be outdone in the offended stakes, Nick Clegg hyperventilated – “Farage’s comments about foreign people with HIV were simply vile and desperate. Politics of the lowest form.” Only Cameron has so far kept quiet, although he deputized the Chancellor to tell the media that he would not “dignify” the remarks with a response. He wants to seem prime ministerially aloof – he also cannot rule out some kind of vote-by-vote support arrangement with UKIP if the Tories form a minority government after the election.
He will almost certainly have to work with them, if the next Parliament is not to be even more dominated by “progressive” policies than his last one was. Miliband, Sturgeon, Clegg, Wood and Bennett really are rivals, and differ on details and emphases – yet in their underlying logic and aims they are not as far apart as they might think. The truth is that the new much-vaunted multi-party politics mask an older, simpler cleavage – the classic division between “the forces of conservatism,” and the forces of change for change’s sake. The one thing that is really different now is that, in the execrated shape of Nigel Farage, the forces of conservatism have a hungry leader for the first time in many years.
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