Only a few short years ago, this blog would never have imagined uttering the shocking words “I agree with Nigel Farage”. But in the ongoing internal warfare within UKIP, Farage’s latest intervention is a welcome one.
Yesterday, this blog wrote about the coming battle for UKIP’s soul, as evidenced by a growing movement within the party urging them to move to the political centre, a potentially fatal error of judgement.
This misguided movement should be distinguished from other calls to change the tenor and tone of the party’s messaging – this blog fully supports a calmer, more reasoning style of political engagement by eurosceptics and advocates for individual liberty, but not at the expense of jettisoning core commitments to smaller government and increased personal freedom.
And on this front, Nigel Farage’s latest statement gives some encouragement. From the Telegraph:
Nigel Farage has refused calls to move to the centre ground as tensions with his deputy and only MP grow ahead of meeting with MEPs this week.
The Ukip leader said he would continue to speak out on controversial topics like immigration, despite pressure from his deputy chairman Suzanne Evans and Douglas Carswell.
In television interviews on Sunday, Miss Evans had said that Ukip “needs to go” more into the centre ground, while Mr Carswell said Mr Farage had to moderate his “tone”.
But a defiant Mr Farage told The Daily Telegraph: “I will continue to lead Ukip as I have, broadening policies.
“They don’t want the party to attract opprobrium but if you take on the political class on tough issues you attract opprobrium.
Quite right too. The constant scorn and attacks, just for holding political opinions that would be considered perfectly common sense and mainstream in other countries such as the United States, can become wearing after a time. And as the ad hominem attacks increase the temptation to moderate the message can be very strong indeed. But it must be avoided – for now is the time for eurosceptics and believers in smaller government to stay the course, not dilute their message.
None of this is to argue that UKIP should not tone down the anti-immigration rhetoric or stop courting controversy where it can be avoided. For instance: though the impact of EU migration on the unskilled British workforce is undeniable, there is probably no further mileage to be gained from pointing this out. And though it may be quite right to insist that the National Health Service should cater for British citizens and taxpayers first and foremost, using the example of foreign HIV sufferers was always going to attract the ire of Britain’s virtue signallers and professional outrage-mongers.
So by all means, UKIP should stop doing the things which unnecessarily drive up the party’s negative ratings, and even prepare to take a back seat in the coming Brexit campaign if this will give the broader eurosceptic movement the greatest chance of success. But it would be unpardonable to change the manifesto commitments to national defence, refocusing international aid, simpler and flatter taxes, welfare reform and smaller government just because they do not fit with a “centrist” political strategy.
Nigel Farage was quite right when he said that opposing the bland British political consensus will attract opprobrium – you know you’re really closing in on the target once you start taking heavy enemy fire. Perhaps UKIP’s leader has started following this blog, which said precisely the same thing (in almost the same words) only yesterday:
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.
UKIP’s future currently stands on a knife-edge, both in terms of ideological direction and the party’s continued political viability – though the two are inextricably linked. On the one hand, there is the impulse to welcome the new ranks of ex-Labour supporters by adopting a more left-wing, big government approach, but on the other is the fact that any move to the centre or embracing of the stale post-war consensus is likely to result in UKIP ultimately becoming seen as just “more of the same”.
The short term political benefit of reducing negative headlines and winning over fickle left-wing voters without doing the hard work of really changing hearts and minds in favour of an anti-big government, pro-freedom agenda is just that: a short term solution. It may temporarily increase support and polling numbers, but only at the expense of shredding UKIP’s hard-won claim to represent a genuinely different political choice.
Britain has more than enough parties eager to bang on about “our NHS”, mindlessly defend the public sector and blindly support the EU, all as part of their grubby quest for centrist support. We do not need another such party.
And UKIP must follow Nigel Farage’s lead and resolutely refuse to become just another party of centrist compromise and disappointment.