Over many months this blog has come in for some often aggressive responses to posts that have been critical of UKIP.
One of the accusations levelled at me (and certainly at Richard North) is that we have been waging a vendetta against Nigel Farage because of an historical ‘grudge’. Where we have pointed out deficiencies in UKIP policy, media handling, message and approach – frequently naming Farage because he is the face of the party and has complete control over the approach taken – we have been told our criticisms are invalid because we are simply pursuing a campaign against him.
They reject our separate responses that we are actually critical friends of the party, want it to succeed for the sake of the anti-EU campaign, and are highlighting failings in the hope they are addressed by the party and not repeated.
However, the coverage of UKIP over the last couple of weeks in the Telegraph, Guardian and Times, puts things into context. If aggrieved UKIP supporters thought the criticism of their party here and on EU Referendum was unacceptable and driven by a grudge, a look at what is happening in the media shows what a real grudge looks like – with allegations of extra marital affairs, party organisation incompetence, donors refusing to channel cash directly to the party and deliberate misuse of taxpayers’ money all dragged out in front of the public, with the sole aim of taking Nigel Farage down.
Some of the noisy hardcore have gone on to comment threads and said UKIP is being singled out by the media and the other parties are being given a free pass, indicating media bias. Some of them claim that this is the establishment running scared of UKIP and trying to discredit it. But it is something altogether different. This is ‘score settling’.
For a long time the media has ignored UKIP. There wasn’t enough interest to warrant publishing the stories it had, even though there have been personal spats behind the scenes where Farage and some of those close to him have seriously put the media’s nose out of joint. We always said though that the media would turn its attention to UKIP at the point when it is considered one of the main parties, and that the scrutiny would be damaging. That moment seems to have arrived and the media is now getting pay back for what has gone on before. This is the political equivalent of revenge porn.
Worryingly for UKIP there is yet more material, much of which is not in the public domain, that the media is sitting on, waiting to toss into the public domain when it chooses to. Already the polls are showing the mythical ‘surge’, which has seen UKIP in third place in the polls but stubbonly rooted around 13%, seems to be retreating. On Tuesday ICM put the Lib Dems in third place above UKIP. On Thursday an Ipsos-MORI poll saw the Lib Dems keep their third place ahead of UKIP and this morning YouGov has the Lib Dems overtaking UKIP, pushing them back into fourth. This may have little impact in the European elections in May, which always sees protest votes rise dramatically, but for next year’s General Election this has Farage writing his resignation letter after failing to win any Westminster seats.
While the ultra hardcore party faithful, who behave more like a cult, will forgive anything and justify or excuse the behaviour reported in the allegations – incredibly accepting apparent defrauding of the taxpayer – many of the people that UKIP needs to change their vote to support the party will be put of by the claims. They will take the view that for all his words, Farage is JAP – just another politician.
That will only compound the problem UKIP has of being the least popular and most unpopular of the parties, as shown in an ICM poll reported on Political Betting this week.
The concern for this blog is that the drip feed of negative stories about the party’s behaviour, and that of Farage in particular, will turn people off the anti-EU movement. The latest polling disturbingly showing that now only a minority of voters currently want to leave the EU – 39%. While UKIP is only polling around 13% nationwide, showing they actually don’t represent most anti-EU voters, there is still a perception that UKIP is the anti-EU movement, and if UKIP turns people off some might back away from anti-EU sentiment.
It is a sad fact that the reason the good ship UKIP is now taking water over the side is that its actions and those of Farage have generated so many negative stories for the media to feast upon. The party has brought this on itself and scrutiny was always going to result in this. There is no fire without fuel. The lack of discipline, the questionable attitude of the leadership, the failure to develop and articulate a clear position on matters and the refusal to link the issues that have caused public anger to their EU origins, are seeing a double whammy of media feeding frenzy and flatlining poll numbers respectively.
What we have seen over the last few weeks is why this blog has long said UKIP deserves and needs better. The stories currently in flight have far more impact because the main characters in them are still in place. Perhaps in the light of these stories being trotted out in the media, our reasoning now makes a bit more sense. Sadly for the anti-EU movement we can be certain things will get worse for UKIP before they have any hope of getting better. It means we all lose.