Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Uk Independence Party (UKIP) - an Obituary

Evening all of you.

I think we can safely close the book, read UKIP the last rites and bury them. Last week was a pretty terrible one even by the standards of their last couple of years, and its hardly like they were coming into it from a position of strength. Since 2015 we've had four leaders (and the current incumbent is teetering on the precipice), an 18-day reign of error, people claiming to have been at Hillsborough and played professional football when they didn't and MEPs deciding to settle their political differences by going for a proverbial straightener on the cobbles. Anyone who thinks they have a future is either sorely deluded or badly needs to lay off the solvents. UKIP are done.

Someone I respect referred to UKIP as a racist party on social media recently and I've been reflecting on that intermittently during the day. Five years ago I would probably have told anyone calling UKIP racist to shut up and stop flinging mud at people they disagree with, but in the last two or three years I would have to concede that it's a far less black and white issue (apologies for the pun). They saw an opening in the short-term grab that is the squalid anti-immigration market, and not without a degree of success. However, this became what we might refer to as the UKIP paradox - namely the reasons for any good results they achieved also became the cause of their rather rapid demise.

It would be churlish to dispute that UKIP definitely had their moments. In 2014 they became the first party other than Labour or the Tories to win a nationwide poll for a century when they won the European election. They then polled 13% of the vote at the 2015 General, although our rather archaic voting system meant this only translated to a single MP (the Liberal Democrats and SNP both got significantly more seats off many fewer votes). There were numerous occasions on which they were a whisker away from securing stunning by-election triumphs, but narrowly finished second - a problem emphasised in 2015 when they finished second in no less than 120 constituencies.

However, there's much to be said for that old saying "if your auntie had bollocks she'd be your uncle" - the reality is that despite whatever relative success they had and despite the noise and hype around them, UKIP managed to win a parliamentary seat from a standing start on precisely ZERO occasions. Of the three instances in which they 'flipped' an MP (namely Bob Spink, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless) only Carswell remained a UKIP Member of Parliament after the election that followed. Nigel 'man of the people' Farage stood for election to Parliament on no fewer than seven occasions and lost every time, most notably in the South Thanet constituency in 2015.

There were two main issues with UKIP as an organisation, both of which we've covered as potential pitfalls for any political group in the past. One was rabid anti-intellectualism, its rather primitive commitment to an angry nativist form of 'common sense politics' which certainly tapped into a zeitgeist of the first half of this decade, but is also liable to render any party a 'poison brand' in the eyes of large swathes of the population. Moreover, it became nigh on impossible to describe what UKIP-ism is, meaning that anger replaced ideas, serving as a very clear 'not welcome' sign to anyone identifying as young, forward-thinking and definitely a product of the modern world.

This feeds into my second point. When talking to my good mate Chris Coey last week I stumbled across something of a shared talent, namely the ability to pick up the 'political vibe' coming off somebody who is speaking about a subject. Let's be clear, there wasn't always a nasty vibe coming off UKIP and its representatives, but in its latter years the arsenic levels gradually rose until you expected to look at your fingernails and find they'd changed colour. They had quite consciously and deliberately become a 'nasty party' - even if they weren't a "shut the door, we're full" outfit, they sounded like one, and their low-rent brand of populism turned out not to be all that popular.

Any political party which discards imaginative and well thought out policies for white noise and a series of loud grunts about foreigners is going to have an element of 'stuck record' about it before too long and end up with a distinctly limited shelf life. In their 'peak years' I can only ever remember UKIP having three policies that were confirmed, namely 1) leave the EU, 2) stop or at least significantly reduce immigration and 3) ban the burka (I know).  They had once been a small-state, free market type party but abandoned that to chase votes in the North. They flirted with being pro-civil liberties for a period but discovered there were negative votes in that and piped down.

As a result, the only thing capable of keeping UKIP together was not a shared philosophy or view of the world, but a cultish demagogue who ruled with a cocktail of wide boy charisma and an iron fist. Step forward Nigel 'pretty straight kinda guy' Farage. Taking over after UKIP's Kilroy-inspired Euro election success in 2004, he remained at the helm for almost all of the next decade, aside from a brief period when he stood aside to contest the speaker's Parliamentary seat in 2010 (as you already know, he lost). Numerous ex-colleagues complained about our Nige being boorish, a bully, a misogynist etc, with one, Martha Andreasen, famously referring to him as 'just like Stalin'. Lovely.

But then again, just as Iraq just might have needed Saddam Hussein and Libya needed Colonel Gaddafi, perhaps an egomegalomaniac like Farage was the only type of leader under whom a disorganised rabble like UKIP could have thrived. It's certainly true that nobody who has followed him has managed to hold things together for long, although an alternative view is that Farage deliberately turned UKIP into what it became, frightening off independent and original thinkers, precisely to render it a sort of 'cult' and nurture dependency. One way or another, he was certainly the reason for many committed members of UKIP choosing to end their association.

One, quite incredibly, was Dr Alan Sked, who had founded UKIP in 1993 as something altogether removed from what it became. His vision of the party was of a moderate centre-right outfit that was anti-EU membership but had policies in all of the other major areas. He expelled Farage from UKIP in the late 1990s, partly over Nigel's wish to bring ex-National Front members into the organisation, partly over a disputed claim about Farage using racist language and also a tendency to turn up for official business (i.e. work) in what could be politely described as a 'relaxed mood' - a legal challenge was mounted, Sked couldn't afford to fight Farage's people and so it was he who had to go.

Dr Sked later distanced himself completely from the "Frankenstein's Monster" he had inadvertently created.

Alas it didn't have to be that way, and this is the point I've deliberately left until late. So many people credit UKIP with 'getting us the EU referendum' through threats of Tory defections and Dave panicking. This is true to an extent but also assumes that had UKIP not been there to serve the purpose they did, precisely nothing else would have been. This is a denial of the sort of political gravity that most of us understand, namely that political parties stay in business because a market for someone or something like them continues to exist. Who's to say that something far more well-run and professional couldn't and shouldn't have occupied that space instead?

Which means...maybe, just maybe Brexit happened despite UKIP and not because of them. This is something I think you'll hear on this site, possibly EU Referendum and precisely nowhere else but I've always been uncomfortable with the slice of the credit that has been casually handed to the Kippers and believed that it may have been somewhat overstated. While Farage himself cut something of a background figure during the campaign, where was any other member of the party at this critical moment that they had apparently worked themselves into the ground to engineer? Either AWOL or deemed irrelevant and worse than useless - either way it's a reason to think again.

Probably the most damning aspect to consider about UKIP is that despite having had Euro MEPs for 17 years at the time of the referendum, they were still no closer to nailing down a process by which we could unravel ourselves from the EU. This begs the question:- apart from trousering money from the 'EU gravy train' they claimed to despise and wandering round the South of France getting shitfaced, what exactly were those UKIP MEPs doing? Throw in the small matter of two of those MEPs (Tom Wise and Ashley Mote) going to prison for crimes of theft or dishonesty and it's worth asking if these were really 'men of the people' or an opportunistic bunch of political bogus roofers.

A tribalist's dream, to say that UKIP were light on substance is a mite generous if anything.

Anyway RIP and I appreciate it's unkind to speak ill of the dead, but hopefully you'll appreciate that history needs to be recorded accurately. The truth is the truth.

I'll leave you with the best song I could think of and thank you for reading once again. Catch up with you next time.

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