The digital wailing and gnashing of teeth is a sight to behold. It was always only a matter of time before it came to the fore.
Nigel Farage has a track record of masterful inaction and silence when he wants to be all things to all men. Article 50 is a case in point. With some in UKIP wisely recognising Article 50 as the only legal process available for commencing Brexit from the EU, and others loudly declaring it to be a vicious trap to be avoided at all costs, Farage stayed silent on the subject for years lest he alienate one of the divergent sections of UKIP supporters. Eventually he came down on the side of Article 50 in a conference question and answer session, leaving UKIP ‘heavyweights’ like Rodney Atkinson, Torquil Erikson and Professor Tim Congdon on the wrong side of the party’s policy.
But that was an EU related matter and therefore an issue of steadily declining importance in UKIP, which has instead opportunisitically positioned itself to become a rallying point for the disaffected anti immigration/anti asylum constituency as part of Farage’s grand plan to eclipse the BNP by wooing their supporters. As intended, many former BNP supporters who saw the Nick Griffin bandwagon coming off the tracks saw UKIP, with its own sizeable, vociferous and unchallenged ‘the UK is full, no more migrants or asylum seekers‘ anti immigration rump, as their new natural home.
Certainly, Farage wasn’t saying anything that would alienate them so it seemed the perfect fit . But what they did not note was that Farage was also saying nothing on the subject to alienate the more rational and realistic members of his party, who recognise that controlled immigration is necessary for a country with an economy like ours and providing asylum to those in fear for their lives is a humane act. But that has been Farage all over, letting everyone believe he is on their side and in tacit support of their worldview because he was able to stay quiet on anything contentious. That is they way it remains until silence is no longer an option, or Farage decides there is capital to be made by coming down on one side of the fence.
Over the weekend, calculating a potential advantage that could wrongfoot David Cameron and make UKIP seem more cuddly to potential voters who are otherwise put off by that UKIP faction which wants all immigrants to leave and no more immigrants or asylum seekers – particularly not Muslims – to be admitted, Farage threw one of his legs over the fence and called for the UK to accept refugees from Syria.
Cue the digital equivalent of a collective howl from the small minded little Englanders who had, until that point, believed Farage was in lock-step with them and would pursue a policy of pulling up the drawbridge. Moderate ‘kippers have been celebrating Farage’s call, as much for the manner in which he has exposed Cameron’s Conservatives as lacking ‘compassion’ as for it being the right thing to do. However, for the true believers who abandoned the BNP cult for the UKIP cult, some of whom infest the comment threads of the Telegraph and the Mail, Twitter and UKIP’s Facebook page with their obsessive and often illogical rants, the sense of betrayal has been too much to bear as the selection of the comments below shows:
Their reaction is akin to being courted, bedded then dumped just before a big date, after they have spent lots of time being told this is the real thing. UKIP is going to lose members and gain vocal, bitter critics that were previously sworn brothers in arms.
For this schism Farage has only himself to blame. He could have avoided getting into bed with these people by making clear what he believed in from the outset. But his view is why bother alienating people who are in the tank, spreading the word, plastering ‘Vote UKIP’ in every comment thread on news websites and supporting the claim that UKIP is growing and winning new supporters.
Farage might have finally realised that UKIP has a ‘toxic brand’ far worse than the one that causes the Conservatives so much anxiety, but it is one that might now be too embedded for moderate people to ever give the party their support. That is something for which Farage will have to count the cost. Sadly for the EUsceptic cause, it is a cost borne there too which adversely affects the likelihood of securing the essential Brexit from the EU.