The first of UKIP’s party political broadcasts for the 2015 general election sets quite a different tone and mood than we are used to from the party. In fact, everything about the broadcast, now viewable on YouTube, seems designed to confound the expectations and prejudices of those who are reflexively opposed to UKIP and Nigel Farage.
Yes, the subject of immigration – UKIP’s key vote winner – is discussed in some detail. But this is the only context in which the European Union is mentioned, perhaps reflecting the party’s realisation that “banging on about Europe” is not attractive to voters in itself, and can only bear fruit when clearly linked to other subjects that voters consider important – like the state of Britain’s schools and hospitals.
The broadcast begins with Nigel Farage, seated against a black backdrop, channelling Monty Python by saying “And now for something completely different!” before breaking into a cheeky grin.
But what follows is neither laughably absurd nor tub-thumpingly, flag-wavingly nationalistic, which will no doubt come as a great disappointment to the party’s detractors.
Cue footage of Nigel Farage arriving at UKIP’s spring conference in Margate, greeting supporters and waiting in the wings while he is introduced before going on stage to deliver his speech. We then snap away to a voiceover, where Farage explains:
“UKIP was founded because people like me who were businessmen, not involved in politics at all, felt our political class were disconnected from ordinary people and were taking the country in the wrong direction. I think the point about UKIP, and the reason we call it the People’s Army, is it’s ordinary folks against the political class. That we’re a broad-based party and you’ve got people from all different walks of life, all classes, all races, all ages, and we want change”.
This is good counter-argument to those on the left who insist that Nigel Farage is every bit as much a part of the establishment as David Cameron or Ed Miliband, simply because he went to a private school and worked in the city – while overlooking the fact that Farage did not attend university, and makes the convincing case that he only entered politics because nobody else in Britain was advocating the policies that UKIP now champions.
When Farage goes on to claim that UKIP are “closer to the kind of conversations that go on in households up and down this country” not only is he likely right, he is also effectively rebuking the other party leaders – Ed Miliband is particularly guilty here – for their endless recounting of supposed interactions with “ordinary people” who just happen to think that they are doing a brilliant job, and who agree with their every policy pronouncement.
The broadcast then goes on to talk about concerns shared by nearly all British citizens, not just firm UKIP supporters – like worries about being able to afford a house, their children being able to find a good job, and whether the next generation will enjoy a better living standard than we enjoy today. When Farage bemoans the fact that “the rich are getting richer in this country, the poor are getting poorer and we want to do things, positive things, to help people” such as removing any income tax on the minimum wage, he sounds positively Labourite, not at all the Son of Thatcher.
It takes until the half-way mark until the first mention of “an end to uncontrolled, unskilled migrant labour coming into Britain and putting British people out of work” – as the camera cuts to the white cliffs of Dover. And then comes UKIP’s key message, placed very firmly in the context of needing independence from the EU to fully achieve everything else that the British people want: “I’m not against anybody, but I do think we have got to put the interests of ordinary British people first. We cannot have a net 300,000 people a year coming into Britain because of the impact on schools, on hospitals, on houses. But the problem is this: we cannot control our borders as members of the European Union.”
One man talking simply and honestly to the camera, contrasted with UKIP’s leader receiving a rapturous welcome at a local town hall meeting. With no tub-thumping and no scaremongering, no accusations or scapegoating of immigrants in sight. This calm and measured party political broadcast by UKIP is the work of a party no longer trying to expand its support base, but rather reassure their existing supporters that a vote for UKIP is “okay”, not something to second guess as polling day draws closer, or feel ashamed of as the other parties step up their attacks.
In an election campaign where Labour decided to wheel out the celebrity endorsements and the supposedly resurgent Green Party decided to squander any claim to seriousness with their boyband-themed election broadcast, UKIP decided to keep it simple – a sign of a party quietly confident of achieving gains, despite the barrage of attacks and a brace of new polls and articles suggesting that the party’s support is slipping back from its highs of late last year.
No dark warnings of invasion by foreigners. No union flag bunting. Not a single rendition of Land of Hope and Glory.
UKIP’s political operation is growing up. And the other political parties should be afraid.