By DOUGLAS MURRAY
The 'foxes' of European politics have presided over a still-ongoing car crash
The Wall St. Journal: A divide has opened in British politics. It is not between north and south, or left and right, but between hedgehogs and foxes.
Isaiah Berlin first popularized the idea (taken from a fragment of the Greek poet Archilochus) that "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." He used the notion to categorize the difference between various thinkers. But since last week's local-election upset for the U.K.'s major political parties, it is a way to understand our changing politics.
For some years, in Britain and the rest of Europe, politics has been dominated by foxes who knew (or at least pretended to know) many things. They were of varying quality: some sleek and impressive, others akin to those mangy specimens you find in cities. But whatever their attributes, the foxes also presided over a still-ongoing, continent-wide car crash. So today, in a time of apparently endless and insoluble crises, the attraction of those who know one big thing is very considerable. And if that one big thing happens to be the big thing of your day? Well then perhaps it is right that we've arrived at the age of the hedgehog.
Certainly there could be no better exemplar of a political hedgehog than U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage. A plain-speaking, pint-drinking fellow, it is fair to say that he is not your typical bureaucrat. Yet In Thursday's local-council elections in England, UKIP won almost a quarter of the vote, becoming the third-largest political party in the country. By projected national share of the vote, that puts UKIP only two points behind the Conservatives and nearly 10 points ahead of the Liberal Democrats. What had been recently dismissed as a protest vote turns out to have been an attempt by a large portion of the British public to say something loud and clear.
UKIP's appeal and success have grown in recent years thanks to Mr. Farage's high-profile, full-frontal savagings of the foxes in Brussels. His plucky and bristling assaults on Herman von Rompuy, Catherine Ashton and the rest from his seat in the European Parliament have been mocked by his mainstream political counterparts. But they've also reflected a growing public intuition. For as Brussels and its foxes throughout Europe kept crashing the continent into walls, they also kept pretending that their way of ordering things—an undemocratic, increasingly expensive United States of Europe—was the only reasonable option. When critics began pointing out growing flaws that ought to have been impossible to ignore, the foxes (David Cameron for instance) chose to insult the dissenters and their own electorates instead of engaging with their concerns.
U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage knows one big thing: Countries must control their own destinies.
Now, after watching the assumptions, presumptions and the very legitimacy of the foxes disintegrate, the electoral landscape has begun to change. The hedgehogs have begun to draw blood.
They may of course find themselves uncomfortable on the foxes' terrain. Mr. Farage, for instance, is not someone desperate to discuss NHS reform, or the labyrinthine intricacies of welfare policy. But even in that fact—imagined by his elite opponents as a failing—he finds an advantage. For among the public and even (whisper it quietly) much of the political class, there's a growing suspicion that the ability to manage the modern welfare state is not just beyond any particular person, but beyond anybody. Time and again the bureaucratic geniuses seem to have shown this. For a decade, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson bestrode British politics like perfect foxes. After they had finished with it, the country was in worse financial shape than at any point in recent history.
As the deficiencies of the foxes have become clear, the public have begun to wonder whether certain hedgehogs may not have had a point all along. The greatest advantage that Mr. Farage has, like anti-EU politicians elsewhere Europe, is that he does not just know any old big thing. He knows the one big thing that now perhaps matters most of all. It has been Mr. Farage's conviction since he helped found UKIP two decades ago that countries must be in control of their own destiny.
For two decades this view was marginalized and derided. Supreme foxes like Tony Blair continuously reassured the British public that their future was in the EU, and that not only political and legal but even monetary union was in store.
Today, however, the whole world can see what can happens if countries do not have control of their own money. And a whole continent can see what happens when a country is no longer in control of its own laws or borders. With millions of immigrants flooding into Europe and high-level terrorists given sanctuary, the elites have said there was nothing they could do and this was just something we must live with. The public have not accepted this. They don't believe foxes anymore.