Back in 2014, I got to know quite a few people who had joined UKIP with the ambition of helping to shape the party while before it had a fully formed identity. They felt it was a unique opportunity to help steer the policies and ideas of the party leadership and feel part of something new and exciting in British politics.
I met many very likeable, reasonable and decent people who were politically moderate on most issues, had left the Conservatives or Labour in disillusionment and were hoping to detoxify the party and permanently disrupt party politics. The major hindrance to this was shoddy leadership and, of course, the many cranks and xenophobes who held the most sway and had no intention to allow any serious modernisation or professionalisation.
The surge in UKIP’s popularity was generated by an unsustainable coalition of conservatives, libertarians, Thatcherites, moderates, “old Labour” types and, of course, racists and BNP types. All that bound them together was euroscepticism and it was always inevitable that UKIP could not pretend to be all things to all of these people forever. The only way of securing a long term future was to disinfect the party of its extremist elements.
I felt then that UKIP needed to mature, move on from its “fruit cake” label and become a serious party with a marketable brand and identity. This, I believe, was the real reason Douglas Carswell jumped ship. It wasn’t some brilliant strategy to minimise UKIP influence in the 2016 referendum, it was because he envisioned shaping the still malleable party into something closer to his own philosophy. He hugely overestimated his ability to do that and underestimated the iron grip of Nigel Farage and his cronies.
It was in the 2014 Euro election campaign that UKIP irrevocably chose its ugly path that achieved short term success but will lead to eternity as a minor grouping with very limited relevance. The Faragists opted for the short sighted strategy of sweeping up homeless BNP voters and thus sealed the Party’s fate as an anti-immigration populist movement designed to stoke xenophobia.
It was a far cry from the days when Farage was the cheeky chappy in the fringes of British politics, sticking two fingers up to the eurocrats and making Cameron perpetually uncomfortable. He was the “live and let live” libertarian who wanted to shake up the establishment; there was something amusing and likeable about him. Now he’s just a cheap, sweaty, racist demagogue windbag and the party he led is a husk.
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The increased vote share in the 2014 elections was largely due to a very low turnout because of Britain’s total apathy to European elections. Nonetheless Farage felt vindicated and has been ranting about immigrants, foreign languages and AIDs infected foreigners ever since. He is now a Trump cheerleader and central to the thoroughly un-British “alt-right” movement.
Now, with Brexit being delivered by a Conservative Government and the party withering in the long, dark shadow of its departed idol worshipped leader, the party is struggling for relevance as it approaches the newly announced General Election. Thanks to Farage, UKIP has not been able to adapt, will never be able to rise above its BNP-lite label and is well past its high water mark.
The party’s only MP has quit and has a dishonest and dim-witted, utterly unimpressive leader who looks like Eddie Hitler from 90’s sitcom Bottom (this is his only redeeming feature). There are two parts to Nuttall’s political image, the contemptibly pathetic Farage clone in tweed trying to appeal to the Farage fans of the south, and the gritty Liverpudlian promising to “make chips cheap as chips again” like a sketch show character taking the piss out of northerners. The man is charlatan and an embarrassment.
When Nuttall dresses in his “Farage style” flat cap and tweed, he resembles a little boy trying to emulate the daddy they so worship. He is not a leader; he is a hapless pretend figurehead. The real power still lies with Farage and his sponsor Arron Banks; Nuttall is like a child with a toy steering wheel smiling inanely in the passenger seat.
Why vote for UKIP? We know they have no substance and no properly thought out policies. Brexit is no good reason, Theresa May is able to say to Brexiteers that every vote for the Conservatives will strengthen her hand as she negotiates an exit agreement. Paul Nuttall can only reply that people should vote UKIP because they are the only party “wholeheartedly committed to a clean quick and efficient Brexit”. A statement of such utter vacuity that it only serves as a reminder of his complete pointlessness.
What does it mean? UKIP policy is to demand the hardest Brexit possible, with no compromise, no transitional arrangements, and the drawbridge firmly pulled up; that isn’t going to be efficient or clean; it would be a mess. It would lead directly to legal chaos, an economic downturn, Britain’s reputation tarnished in the eyes of the world and a botched secession that leaves us in a poor position to take exploit the benefits of leaving the EU.
UKIP’s boneheaded Brexit policy is no reason to vote for them, thus they are going to be a screaming irrelevance in this General Election. Because of the failure to diversify, they have no well known policies beyond lowering immigration. They have no talent in the party which is why only 48% of seats will be fought in local elections; they will not have the candidates to contest seats nationwide in the General Election and the ones that do contest will be thoroughly unremarkable with little profile.
I’m sure the media will enjoy the antics of the brash “bad boys of Brexit” but I don’t believe the electorate will dignify them with their votes. Far from beginning a powerful new political movement, Arron Banks, Andy Wigmore and Nigel Farage are pratting around acting like it’s all one big lad’s holiday. They are not serious and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Paul Nuttall was humiliated in Stoke and will fail once again. Even if Farage stands again there is no guarantee of victory, despite his continuing popularity as a phoney “man of the people”. The notion that Britain is in the middle of a Trump style populist uprising has always been hugely overblown, it is mostly the product of Farage’s imagination as he tries to dictate the narrative and take full credit for the result of the referendum. There will be no purple and yellow uprising.
The Conservative Party is appealing for a mandate to deliver a successful Brexit. It is a vast political project and failure is not an option. The electorate know that now is the time to vote for a serious party and political stability, which is very bad news for Jeremy Corbyn and Paul Nuttall. The electorate know there is no point voting for UKIP. More and more formerly committed Ukippers are abandoning ship, all that will be left is the dregs.
Ben Kelly is an Executive Director of Conservatives for Liberty.