Yesterday I wrote about the rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and the way in which they have transformed themselves over just a few years from being an upstart fringe party full of “fruitcakes and closet racists” (thanks, David Cameron) into a populist, compelling electoral force to be reckoned with.
I set out the reasons why I think that UKIP offer a compelling manifesto, and how they may well escape the usual fate suffered by smaller parties in general elections, i.e. falling back into obscurity, single-digit vote shares and zero parliamentary representation.
Evidently other people see the writing on the wall for the traditional Labour/Conservative/LibDem trifecta too, and none do so with more trepidation than loyal-but-ideologically-compromised traditional Conservative supporters, who rather than re-examining and changing their own faulty policies would rather destroy the newcomers who make them look bad by comparison.
Cue this hit piece from Mary Riddell, writing in The Telegraph. She thunders:
So consider, this morning, what a Ukip Britain would look like. it would be a locked-down land, armed to the hilt, where good foreigners were repelled and bad ones expelled, no questions asked. It would be a country concreted over for extra jails (though never for high speed rail lines). It would be a quaint place – an old curiosity shop of matrons and smoking rooms.
It would be a nation of wild spending, of derisory taxes for the rich and – not least because all talk of climate change would be abandoned – a country programmed for ruin. Welcome to Mr Farage’s Britain.
That future should not only alarm Ed Miliband. It should horrify us all.
More insidiously, she continues the old-guard Tory attempt to paint UKIP as the British National Party in a pin-stripe suit disguise, warning:
Moreover, today’s results are the first sign that Britain is far from immune to the lurch towards extremism that has shadowed other European countries and been exacerbated by recession. For sure, Ukip is no Golden Dawn and Mr Farage no dangerous rabble-rouser. Even so, his party’s performance invites comparison with the progress made by Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France.
If UKIP is no dangerous party and it’s leader no Jean-Marie or Marine Le Pen, why is Liddell then inviting comparison with those very same people and entities? Such a heinous accusation, so innocuously put. And of course the answer is as obvious as the motive of her rhetoric is tawdry – you can put two groups together in the same sentence and protest loudly that you are not comparing one with the other, but all that people will take away and remember is that UKIP and the far right are somehow associated.
Note also the total lack of any evidence to back up her words. Is Mary Riddell being serious? From where is she conjuring this nightmarish dystopia of a UKIP-ruled Britain? Certainly not from their own manifesto, which reads like a broadly libertarian (though a touch too socially authoritarian) set of policies that many Tories and centrists could get behind.
If she is choosing to smear UKIP based on some of their whackier supporters or representatives, she should remember that less mature parties have a harder time screening their candidates as they work to develop a national presence, and that there are plenty of thoroughly cringeworthy people in the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat ranks, too.
I was a UKIP doubter once, but now I’m not so sure. Their advocacy of smaller government, more competition and less regulation in both private and state sectors, and a flat tax are all very appealing to me. If the Conservative Party and their allies in the right wing media want to keep my loyalty and win my vote at the 2015 general election, the surefire way to fail in that task is to tell me that I am an ignorant reactionary being seduced by a borderline nationalist outfit favoured only by curtain-twitchers, closet racists and little-Englanders.
Mary Liddell and her ilk would do well to remember that.
UPDATE (16.25PM) – I took a closer look at the article byline and realised that Mary Riddell is actually a Labour supporting journalist, so my mistake. Of course, she has her own reasons for wishing to bash UKIP. What actually makes my misunderstanding funnier, and even more pertinent, is that her words could be so easily confused with those of any right-leaning journalist or commentator wringing their hands at the rise of UKIP.