UKIP National Conference 2015: What To Expect

UKIP Doncaster 1

Last year’s party conference saw UKIP fresh from victory in the 2014 European elections, and boosted by the shock defection of former Conservative MP Mark Reckless. Twelve months and one agonisingly unfair general election result later, what surprises can UKIP offer this time around?

Twelve months ago, the current British political landscape would have been completely unrecognisable, the stuff of fantasy.

The Labour Party had not yet imploded in a shower of more-compassionate-than-thou moralising. The SNP’s Westminster surge was beyond even the Scottish nationalists’ wildest expectations following the “No” vote in the Scottish independence referendum. In fact, there was only one political party which could claim to have any real momentum and be making tangible progress of any kind.

That party was UKIP. Twelve months ago, when Nigel Farage teased the UKIP 2014 conference delegates by telling them that a Tory MP would be speaking to them in his place – that MP being Mark Reckless, who then defected to UKIP live on stage to enormous cheers – there was a very real possibility that the second defection of a serving Member of Parliament from the Conservatives to UKIP might unleash the floodgates. At that time, it was entirely possible that UKIP could have ended the summer with a small handful of motivated, eurosceptic ex-Tory MPs, and a real Westminster presence.

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UKIP’s Suspicion Of The Establishment Lapses Into Dangerous Paranoia

Nigel Farage Mark Reckless Douglas Carswell UKIP Defectors Phone Hacking

 

After a few quiet months, prompting endless speculation about  party rifts and even the health of its leader, UKIP are dominating the news agenda once again. Most notably in the Telegraph, which has had us capitvated all weekend with the serialisation of Nigel Farage’s latest book.

Over the course of eight compelling extracts there has been something for everyone – from the human interest angle of Nigel Farage’s multiple brushes with death, through unapologetic socialist-baiting with his candid thoughts about the NHS, to the political intrigue surrounding his all-important fight to win in the constituency of Thanet South.

There were breathless passages shedding light on the secret talks which lead up to defection of former Tory MPs Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless. Indeed, parts of the serialisation read almost like like Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, with Nigel Farage assuming the role of John Galt, the outlaw who furtively persuades America’s leading industrialists to abandon their failing nation and defect to his Objectivist promised land.

But while it makes for a jolly good read, Nigel Farage’s book also goes too far. Specifically, at this point in the seventh extract from the Telegraph’s serialisation where Farage writes (emphasis added):

Mark Reckless came twice to see me at my home in Downe, Kent. No lunch, no wine, just pots of tea, and we talked. The first time he came was before Douglas joined, but the second was after. By then, the campaign to put the frighteners on any Tory looking to join us was intense, Mark turned up in dark glasses and a baseball cap so that the neighbours wouldn’t recognise him. He was convinced that he was being followed, most likely by someone at Conservative central office. It was certainly our suspicion that everyone at Ukip HQ – from me to the press office to the strategists – had their mobiles tapped. Life had become quite surreal.

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UKIP Spring Conference 2015: Blue And Red Should Not Make Purple

 

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.

Mark Reckless NHS

The Tipping Point

UKIP Opinium Poll 31 Percent

 

“To win new recruits, motivate their activists and sustain the interest of politicians and the media, UKIP need to overcome the wasted vote syndrome and appear as a credible choice at general elections” – Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin, Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain

 

UKIP’s victory in the Clacton by-election, giving the party their first MP, was bad for the political establishment.

The ComRes poll giving UKIP’s Mark Reckless a 13-point lead ahead of the Rochester by-election was awful.

But these local by-elections, history-making as they are, can only do so much damage – they give the main political parties, particularly the Tories, a black eye, and not much more. Even if UKIP go on to win the by-election in Rochester and Strood as now seems likely, Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell will still only form a caucus of two at Westminster, hardly enough to start flexing their parliamentary muscles or influencing legislation.

However, a poll just released by Opinium and The Observer reveals something that could shake the establishment to its foundations: 31% of voters would now support Nigel Farage’s party if they believed UKIP had a credible chance of winning in their local constituency. Nearly a third of the electorate are ready to wash their hands of big three political parties entirely, and vote for a new, untested alternative. Not just in the local or European elections, where UKIP are already establishing a track record of success, but in the United Kingdom’s general election next year.

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Panic

Mark Reckless UKIP Rochester

 

Of course UKIP were going to do well in Clacton, the establishment consoled themselves after Douglas Carswell eviscerated the Tories in his thumping by-election victory.

After all, they said, Carswell’s seaside constituency is chock full of exactly the type of unlettered, economically left-behind losers who would be hoodwinked by Nigel Farage’s politics of grievance and fear. But just wait until Rochester and Strood, when the less personable Mark Reckless has to face his more enlightened constituents at the ballot box after jumping ship to UKIP. The Tories’ formidable campaigning operation will kick into gear, the UKIP advance will be halted and normal political order will be restored.

So went conventional wisdom, and the general thrust of most mainstream analysis in the aftermath of the Clacton result. But no longer. A poll by ComRes, released last night, gave UKIP a commanding 13 point lead in the Rochester and Strood constituency, with UKIP on 43%, Conservatives on 30%, Labour on 21% with the Greens and Liberal Democrats fighting for scraps with 3% each.

It’s now officially time to panic. And each faction of the British political establishment is quietly losing the plot in their own uniquely predictable way.

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