UKIP claims to be a party that wants to break the mould. The reality is that the party is nothing like that.
In a recent post this blog made a passing reference to UKIP, where we highlighted that UKIP has departed the field where the EU membership battle is being fought. We outlined briefly that the party is instead focusing itself on ignorant immigration pledges, train lines and water usage in urinals and toilets, rather getting the UK out of the EU. No doubt there are UKIP supporters who would reject this observation, but the evidence is clear.
A piece published yesterday by the Guardian, whose editorial meeting recently played host to Nigel Farage, goes some way to explaining why UKIP is leaving EU membership behind:
Facile explanations about the surge of Ukip support being exclusively about Europe have been comprehensively dismissed in extensive research commissioned by Lord Ashcroft. It showed that Britain’s relationship with Europe was the top issue for only, roughly, a quarter of the people considering Ukip. And yet the surge in support is a phenomenon that remains, to paraphrase Churchill, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside the enigma that is Nigel Farage.
Firstly, let us get this ridiculous talk of a surge in support out of the way. Looking at an average of the 16 polls (accounting for weighting) carried out in October by YouGov, Populus, Opinium, Ipsos-Mori, TNS, ICM and Survation, UKIP’s support is sitting at 11%, just about neck and neck with the detested Liberal Democrats. Electoral Calculus in September had UKIP’s polling average at 13%. In May it was hard to find a poll where UKIP wasn’t sitting on around 16%. So where is this surge? UKIP’s support trend since the 2013 local elections is downward. It is falling away as the people who flirted with the party have discovered the political equivalent of the Emperor’s new clothes.
Back then to UKIP’s quiet departure from their previous core objective of getting out of the EU. What the Ashcroft polls, referenced above, have shown simply reinforces what Farage has already grasped. It is possible to appeal to some voters if you talk to their issues, even if they are not particularly exercised about yours. So Farage, in an attempt to make UKIP an electoral fixture as a fourth mainstream national party, is trying to be all things to all men.
Sure we still get the odd bit of poorly understood and even more poorly researched nonsense about the latest guff they think they’ve uncovered coming out of Brussels. Just look at this story, written in a manner so appalling it makes the Daily Sport look highbrow in comparison. Let’s not forget also UKIP’s capacity for ‘cor blimey’ write ups of stories they’ve jumped on that aren’t even true, such as the supposed banning of the UK flag on meat packaging.
But the party (Farage) has decided to focus much more on domestic matters. In this way Farage hopes to hoover up the protest vote that previously went to the Lib Dems – before they got their feet into Whitehall and showed they are every bit as establishment as the Tories and champagne socialists. That is why UKIP is reverting to dog whistle politics by banging on about HS2 and sentencing in courts across Britain. It’s part of Farage’s desire for a chip in the Westminster game to help him achieve personal ambitions he is trying to realise through UKIP.
The problem is that far from breaking the mould, UKIP is trying to squeeze itself firmly into it. It is trying to compete in a relatively crowded space by talking about the same issues the mainstream parties are, albeit by taking a opposing view to capture protest votes. This approach has been taken in order to service party electoral interests, rather than push the core objective of leaving the EU.
While UKIP is taking this approach and slipping backwards, the debate about EU membership and business inspired nonsense about the single market is ramping up and UKIP is nowhere to be seen. By intent. The proxies of the mainstream parties are pushing the narratives and trying to convince voters of the need to stay in the EU, confining the arguments to the degree of imaginary reform that is required; and UKIP is somewhere else, playing to narrow issues which are largely rooted in EU regulations and directives in any case, but themselves refusing to point at the EU elephant in the room.
Why will UKIP hit the buffers? Because the UK electorate is becoming so polarised the next general election will see the classic two party squeeze. The debate will be channelled onto the economy, energy, NHS, defence and other core areas where UKIP has no profile. UKIP with its sensationalist, badly thought through and BNP-like focus on immigration in the south east and East Anglia, and small voice on HS2 around London and the south midlands, won’t get a look in.
UKIP’s core vote may help to undermine Tory candidates in a number of marginals, but that will be the extent of the UKIP impact. Having given up its place in the fight on EU withdrawal, the party has structured itself as a dustbin for the disaffected with no positive message to offer. Farage, far from increasing UKIP’s appeal, has found a way of restricting it. With impetus lost after an expected good performance in the most meaningless of elections (European elections in 2014) and no succession plan to replace the vain and money motivated Farage, UKIP will slowly contract back into terminal irrelevance.
Dr Eric Edmond, a man a greatly admire for his principle and abilities, gets it when it comes to Farage and his harmful priorities. Regrettably he remains convinced that a political party is the vehicle to use to secure an electoral mandate for EU withdrawal. But what UKIP – and every other party – teaches us is that good intentions at the beginning inevitably give way to servicing party interests, internal squabbles, vote chasing by talking to other issues and diluting the objective. Alan Sked’s New Deal, if it actually fully gets of the ground, will end up with internal squabbles and like UKIP will, over time, lose track of its original aims and become opportunist. It has already tried to position itself on the political spectrum, playing immediately into the hands of the mainstream parties.
Norway’s non-party political anti EU campaign offers us a model to follow. It was a success because rather than fighting within the party political electoral arena and taking on the incumbents, it made itself relevant with an unswerving and well informed message, and had the politicians seeking its endorsement at election time. Getting out of the EU is not something the kind of campaign that a political party can win, because no party can succeed as a single issue entity in the way a non party political movement can. History shows us no party ever has and the UKIP experience has simply reinforced it.