The Battle For UKIP’s Soul

UKIP Battle Bus - General Election 2015


More concerning news about UKIP from today’s Guardian:

The author of Ukip’s general election manifesto has said the party should concentrate on “compassionate, centre-ground” policies, denying the party was riven with bitter infighting.

Suzanne Evans, the party’s deputy chairwoman, said the party’s post-election troubles were related to advisers who had now left. “I don’t think anyone hates anyone,” she said on Sunday […]

“I think if you look at the manifesto – and let’s not forget I wrote the manifesto – I think it was very compassionate, very centre-ground, very balanced and Nigel called it – bless him – the best manifesto ever written. So it was a great sort of feather in my cap. That I think is where he wants to take the party and where the party needs to go.”

On “shy kippers”, a phenomenon repeatedly alluded to by Farage during the campaign, Evans said it was crucial to find out why those people were reticent in showing their support for the party. She added: “If we’ve got it absolutely right and if our party brand is working at the moment, why don’t people want to sing and dance about it?”

This was always the danger for UKIP – not so much the bitter infighting, which is disappointing yet predictable, but rather the growing impulse to move further away from its guiding principles toward the political centre.

The frustration within UKIP is quite understandable – the party dramatically increased its level of support from 2010 to 2015, continuing an exponential rise over the past five years, but was rewarded with only one Westminster seat thanks to the diffusion of its support across the country.

And looking at the parties which performed well (namely the Conservatives and the SNP) it is easy to come away with the impression that the path to electoral success lies in wittering on endlessly about public services – the Tories because they only sold their Long Term Economic Plan on the basis that a stronger economy means more cash for things like the NHS, and the SNP because of their reflexive opposition to ever shrinking the state.

Smarting from the loss of half its Westminster representation and trying to keep a lid on very public infighting which threatens to make the party look foolish, the impulse to move to the political centre is clearly very strong. But it is equally misguided – the British political centre is already overcrowded, with the rudderless Labour Party and David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservatives fighting over the same ground.

Suzanne Evans apparently now believes that UKIP and conservatives in general are to blame for the often hysterical response of many people to right-wing ideas, and that they need to change their “brand” so that people want to “sing and dance” about their beliefs rather than remaining shy Tories or shy Ukippers. But this misses the point. To avoid public opprobrium would be to adopt the same tired, worn-out centrist policies which have led the establishment parties to such unpopularity and irrelevance.

UKIP received just under thirteen per cent of the national vote in the general election because that is currently more or less the ceiling of support for eurosceptic, quasi-libertarian thinking in Britain. But the correct response to this fact is not for UKIP to change the policies to encompass a larger number of potential voters. The correct response is to engage in debate and win over more people to the pro-sovereignty, pro-personal freedom worldview – raising the ceiling rather than lowering the ambition.

Of course this won’t be easy. It takes time – and the gradual accumulation of evidence that the centrist policies pursued by the other parties are failing – to persuade people  that a radically different direction is needed. And in Britain, so accustomed to the post-war settlement policies of an active, interfering government and welfare state, persuading people that lower taxation and greater freedom can result in more prosperity rather than less is particularly challenging.

This means that despite the strides made by UKIP since the party was founded, dramatic electoral success was never going to come in 2015, and nor will it come in a rush in 2020. Weaning people away from big government is a long, difficult process – especially in a country where 52 per cent of the population receive more in government benefits than they contribute in taxes.

But selling out by becoming just another centrist party that drones on about “compassion” while failing to restrain the state and free the individual is the worst possible idea, and would represent a grave betrayal of all those people who were originally attracted to UKIP’s cause.

UKIP is clearly being moved by the impulse to make a comfortable home for the legions of former Labour voters who have switched their loyalty to Nigel Farage, and we are now witnessing the beginning of a battle for the party’s soul. But the answer is not to recreate the Labour Party under a purple banner – to do so would be hugely insincere, and would undermine the true foundation of the party’s support.

Four million votes in a general election is a huge accomplishment, and the temptation to exploit and artificially increase this number by repositioning to the left is immense. But a principled political party – the party to which this blog, after much soul searching, lent its support on 7 May – should not seek quick shortcuts to greater public favour.

Real progress is difficult, and comes slowly. UKIP’s warring factions must not forget this simple truth.


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