I had an intriguing conversation at my surgery recently.
An older gentleman came to tell me that many of his friends were dissatisfied with much about the country and were probably going to vote Ukip.
Now you won’t be surprised to hear that this isn’t exactly the first time I have had this conversation. But I thought that, for once, I might argue with the base principles of his assertion.
My argument was simply that, from any reasonable point of view, there wasn’t much to be dissatisfied with.
I started with the basics and asked the gentlemen whether he had a comfortable retirement? Yes he did.
Did he have somewhere to live? Yes. Did he find the NHS looked after him when he needed help? Bar one or two detailed and reasonable points, the broad answer was yes.
Was he likely to have lived longer than his parents and grandparents? The answer was that he already had by some margin.
Did he feel safe walking the streets? Absolutely. In fact, had he ever been the victim of crime? No he hadn’t been.
I could go on with such a recitation, but even he had to admit fairly rapidly that, compared with his forebears, his lot was a good one. When compared to international comparisons, there really was little to complain about.
Now I don’t argue that this picture of Britain is the same for all our citizens. It plainly isn’t and we are complacent, particularly those of us representing seats like mine in Meon Valley, if we reach such a conclusion.
But the fact is that many of those in this part of the world, tempted by the nihilistic, none-of-the-above choice of Ukip at the ballot box, share a good life. And yet they are tempted to vote Ukip.
Which leads me to an inescapable conclusion: the reaction we are seeing is almost completely an emotional one that cannot be argued with by statistics and rationality – and that’s quite a challenge for politicians.
Any response has to engage with deeply-held feelings of alienation, of being threatened by change, of old certainties disappearing.
But it also has to make the emotional case that things aren’t so bad if you sit and think about them.
The case has to be made in a sympathetic and empathetic way and, if we do this carefully and understand what people are really complaining about, we might be surprised at the results.