We might this week have seen some scrutiny of UKIP candidates, but so far we’ve seen little scrutiny of their policies. But the better the party does, the more policy scrutiny it will start to come under.
This is what makes UKIP’s changing tax policy so interesting. It tells us a lot about where Nigel Farage is trying to take his party.
At the last election, UKIP was committed to a flat tax. There is an intellectual purity to this idea – see Allister Heath’s book on the subject – but it is hard to sell to voters as it would result in ‘the rich’ paying a lower rate.
After Eastleigh, both the Lib Dems and Labour latched on to it as a way of attacking Farage. They both claimed that the flat tax showed UKIP wasn’t really for the little guy but for the wealthy. The result: Farage moving to dump the policy.
On Tuesday he told me that he now favoured a two band system, with one set at 40p, because ‘that is seen to be fairer. Whether that’s right or not, I think it’s seen to be fairer’. What strikes me as significant about this is that Farage is conceding that he’s changing the policy for appearances’ sake. He went on to say ‘you don’t want to have policies that distract from your main objectives in life’.
In South Shields on Tuesday night, Farage regularly said to the crowd that while they might not agree on the details of economic or business policy, they could agree that it should be set here. But if UKIP really is going to become a major political force, it is going to have to have an actual policy prospectus. The challenge for Farage will be keeping together his economically diverse bunch of voters once he set out his ideas in any detail.