Our model should be the Liberal Democrats. Not in policy terms but on how they focused on areas where they are strong, focusing on district councillors and parish and city councils. They trebled the number of seats in Westminster that way. We need a volunteer army. We need people to stand up and put their heads above the parapet.
So said Nigel Farage at the UKIP rally in Telford.
What sounds like a step change in progress is, in reality, Farage seeking to fight the battles of yesterday. When UKIP was formed it was for a clear purpose, to secure withdrawal from the EU. Using the party political model was the right approach for the time because the only way to force withdrawal was via taking Westminster by storm, securing a parliamentary majority and voting to repeal the European Communities Act. The focus, however ambitious, was on going after the politicians by defeating them in elections and taking power.
It was the wisdom of its time. There was no Lisbon Treaty back then, therefore no other route to an orderly exit. There was also no suggestion of a referendum either. But that is not true today. Now we have Article 50 and a defined route to an orderly exit from the EU that didn’t exist before. We also have talk of a referendum. Yet in Telford, Farage spoke of the need for a volunteer army, for people to stand up and put their heads above the parapet. To what end?
It’s a puzzler because UKIP has no clear policy message for this army to carry to the public. Farage won’t let a defined policy be articulated for two reasons:
1) because it allows him to remain all things to all members by not coming off the fence to explicitly chart the course the party will take, therefore avoiding a split with the half of the party that wants a different approach to be taken, and
2) because Farage fears having his policy pulled apart by political opponents, resulting in a loss of confidence among potential UKIP voters when the detail-free policies collapse under scrutiny.
As a result, there is nothing for UKIP to teach its members and activists in the proposed training, therefore they will get chewed up on doorsteps and in hustings as soon as detail is sought and the responses are on-the-fly, off-the-cuff answers that may easily contradict what other UKIP candidates assert elsewhere.
Setting these considerations aside, what can this volunteer army realistically achieve? Most of them will be supporting the party because they oppose EU membership, but having arrived they will be encountering a party whose leader is now dramatically reducing any discussion of EU matters. Ironically, of those things which Farage does deign to talk about many have come about or become an issue precisely because they come under EU competence and have been imposed on the UK. But even Farage is refusing or failing to connect those dots to help voters understand just how relevant and how much impact the EU has on their day to day lives.
This volunteer army would be part of a force in a party that was created in a time when seizing political control was the only way to realise its aim of exiting the EU. But today the world is rather different. There isn’t the need to directly tackle the political class on its own terms in its own domain to move the UK towards the exit door. The battle that needs to be fought is to win the hearts, minds and confidence of the general public to get them on side to vote in a referendum for an independent Britain. How does UKIP having its army and getting Farage and others into Parliament achieve that aim? Norway has already shown the way, winning its referendum to remain independent without having a UKIP type party leading the campaign.
But when it comes to winning the hearts, minds and confidence of voters, many vocal UKIP supporters argue that it is sufficient just to say ‘UKIP wants the UK to leave the EU’ to get them onside, and that giving voters detail will put them off. But unless voters have confidence that the solely political aim of leaving (to achieve self determination) can be achieved without damaging the country’s economic and commercial interests, they aren’t going to get onside. They will stick with the status quo out of fear. This partly explains why UKIP is stubbonly rooted on around 12% in the polls, unable to increase its support because it is mute on the EU issue and is leaving the field to the Europhile voices who are happily sowing misinformation and outright lies without challenge.
Then there is the issue of business involvement in the campaign. Even though it isn’t the place of business to decide how this country should be governed, there’s benefit to the business community also having confidence that an orderly exit can preserve what they want to hold on to and there’s nothing to fear from a Brexit. Leaving the EU is about politics and democracy, it is not an economic matter and must not be allowed to be positioned as such by the Europhiles, using economic concerns to corrupt the debate and scare people into accepting the wishes of the political class.
We do need UKIP as a membership organisation to be onside with a Brexit campaign, articulating the right arguments to win people over to the merits of independence. But UKIP has gone awol just as the Europhiles have started spreading false arguments, which unchallenged are therefore presumed by voters to be accurate and true.
UKIP is working back to front, adopting an approach they should have used years ago just after it has become obsolete. The party is dancing to Farage’s tune, but he is way off key. So what is UKIP good for if it’s so far behind the times and won’t show leadership in the independence campaign because it wants to win the protest votes of fed up people to realise Farage’s ambitions?
The sad fact is, in fighting the battles of yesterday UKIP is not helping us win the bigger battle that is coming tomorrow. The party needs to change and that isn’t going to happen under the Blessed Nigel.