What does UKIP stand for these days?
Beyond their obvious stated goal of facilitating Britain’s departure from the European Union it is becoming increasingly hard to discern what the party believes, heading into the 2015 general election. We can rejoice that many of the wackier elements of the 2010 UKIP manifesto – such as repainting trains in traditional colours and capping the number of foreign players on a football team – have now been explicitly disowned. But the 2015 manifesto, originally due to be launched at the Spring Conference, is late, nowhere to be seen.
While we wait for the small print, we have to content ourselves with the broad strokes. And the broad strokes have not been very encouraging.
In the video above, UKIP’s second MP, ex-Tory defector Mark Reckless, enthuses about UKIP’s prospects coming out of their spring conference in Margate. Reckless says:
I talked about how UKIP is the party of the NHS, we’re gonna get three billion more for the NHS. My dad’s a doctor, my mum’s a nurse, our party leader, three times the NHS has been a lifeline for him, and UKIP is the party of the NHS, and that was my message this morning.
Forget the fact that Mark Reckless appears to be earning a handsome commission every time he utters the letters “NHS”. More worrying is the fact that the backup party of small government, personal freedom and individual responsibility, the last resort for small-C conservatives when the Tory party debases itself in centrist appeasement, is now trying to out-Labour the Labour Party in terms of unthinking fidelity to a broken model of healthcare provision from 1948.
Mark Reckless is an intelligent man, so to hear him make the non-point that Nigel Farage supports the NHS because he has received NHS treatment (as though he would have been left in the wreckage of that aeroplane crash back in 2010, were it not for socialised healthcare) is painful and depressing.
Not only is this approach dishonest (Nigel Farage himself has stated his belief that Britain should move toward an insurance-based system), it is also pointless. For better or worse – and it is nearly always worse – the Labour Party have a monopoly when it comes to the NHS. Delivering universal healthcare in 1948 was about the last good thing that Labour did, and so keen are they to maintain this legacy that they would rather preserve the NHS in its current form for all time, falling healthcare outcomes be damned, rather than let anybody else tinker with their brainchild.
This is not fertile territory for a party of the political right. And every promise made by UKIP to throw more money at the same broken model of post-war healthcare delivery in order to woo a potential Labour voter is equally likely to make a conservative, small government Ukipper reconsider their voting choice in 2015.
Nigel Farage’s party appears to be gambling that electoral success in 2015 will come from fusing disaffected traditional conservative support with disaffected angry left-wing support. And tactically (if not strategically) this may make sense. UKIP’s narrative – that of a strong nation state being the bedrock of a prosperous society and a weak nation state inevitably resulting in unhappiness, unemployment and unrest – transcends traditional left/right political lines, attracting disaffected voters from both Labour and the Conservatives. Red and blue, after all, combine to make purple.
But the resulting shade is not necessarily pleasing to everyone, especially not to those who were first attracted to UKIP because of their euroscepticism and belief in small government and a lean state.
Having risen to great heights by castigating the main political parties for looking and sounding the same and for occupying the same crowded space in the political centre, UKIP should think twice before taking any steps toward emulating them.