UKIP are buoyant and, all of a sudden, everyone’s favourite protest-group. In a curious way, the confirmation that many of their candidates really are boggle-minded, eyes-popped extremists of one stamp or another almost helps UKIP. It confirms that they’re not like the other political parties and encourages people to adopt them as the Sod it, I’m just mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more party. (These people tend not to be attracted to libertarian parties; just as well UKIP is not a libertarian party.)
But UKIP should enjoy this moment while they can. They will remain a presence on the political scene and they will fare splendidly at the next elections to the european parliament. Nevertheless, Farage-Mania seems likely to have a pretty short half-life. Its quite possible that I may be mistaken about this but it seems to me that the Tory reaction to UKIP’s successes this week will be more interesting than those successes. (Sorry, Kippers, but there you go.)
That’s the subject of this week’s Think Scotland column:
There is no point winning votes on the disaffected right if those ballots are matched by lost votes from the horrified middle. Moreover, there is every possibility that, in general, UKIP’s supporters are disproportionately likely to live in safe Tory seats rather than in the marginals that will determine the outcome of the next election. It can hardly be stressed too often that where you win your votes matters almost as much as how many votes you win.
Furthermore, a rush to UKIP sends other signals too. First, it suggests a measure of panic in Tory ranks. Since voters can smell panic and tend to be unimpressed by parties that lack the discipline to hold their ground this is a worrying development in the first place. Secondly, however, it shows how the Tory leadership can be captured or blackmailed by minority or other special interests. That too demonstrates weakness and a lack of grip.
It is curious that Tory MPs who complain that coalition government has hurt the Conservatives are often the same MPs advocating an informal alliance of convenience with UKIP. There is a view, widely held in Tory circles, that the government cannot achieve its goals because the Liberal Democrats have the ability to “veto” vital parts of the Conservative agenda.
If this is the case – and the accusation has some merit – it is hard to see how the party’s fortunes could be improved by, effectively, allowing UKIP to dictate large parts of Conservative policy. This would, of course, be an informal veto but it would exist nevertheless and it would cramp the Tories room to move. A party forever glancing over its shoulder is ill-placed to keep an eye on the horizon too. Or, to put it another way, when the tail is seen to be wagging the dog you do not blame the tail, you blame the dog.
UKIP is not, in any case, a political party in the conventional sense. Though united by its essential euroscepticism, it is more of a persuasion or state of mind than a proper political party with a proper – that is coherent – agenda. Nigel Farage is a bonny fighter and a fine communicator but even he cannot camouflage the back-of-an-envelope nature of most of UKIP’s manifesto. Nor, to be fair to him, does he try. Everything except the anti-EU stuff is negotiable.
Which is fine. But it does rather reinforce the point that UKIP is more of a pressure-group (though one populated by people who despise “pressure-groups”) than a political party. It is, if you like, a gin-sozzled, right-wing version of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, albeit one that stands in elections.
This makes it dangerous, especially in less important mid-term elections falling at a time when voters are minded to give the government a good kicking. But it does not make it a serious force for the long-term. A party that is spooked by UKIP is not a party that is likely to be trusted with the government of the country after the next election.
In other words, UKIP’s gains this week are much less important than the Tory party’s response to those gains (and to Tory losses). If it’s nerve holds it can see this storm out; if it panics, breaks and run it will find the party routed in the much more important battles still to come.
Whole thing here.