In the UK our parliamentary system uses a first past the post system that makes life incredibly difficult for a third party. This is good because it leads to strong government and it creates a clear representative democracy. But it doesn’t help Nigel Farage’s lust for power.
UKIP were seen as a party of the right, a home for disgruntled grumpy old men who found the Conservatives too left wing. They could go to the pub together to grumble and occasionally Farage would join them. All very clubby. But this was never going to bring them much power. An infusion of money allowed UKIP to ramp up their campaign in the European Parliament, where proportional representation favours minority parties disproportionately. But it is a joke of a toothless talking shop, unreported by the British press. So all they have achieved is lots of pay for 24 of their members in return for very little work.
Let’s look at some UKIP policies for the last (2010) general election:
- Flat rate of income tax of 31% (including NIC). No higher rate.
- No employers NIC. Increase other taxes to cover.
- Immediate five-year freeze on immigration for permanent settlement, future limit on gross immigration of 50,000.
- Double number of prison places and end early release, ensure life sentences are served totally in prison and set up “boot camps” for young offender.
- Abolish Crown Prosecution Service and put police in charge of taking offenders to court.
- Increase nuclear power to up to 50% of energy needs. Support efficient UK coal extraction for use in cleaner coal power stations.
- Prevent foreign interests “gaining control of strategic British companies”.
- Safeguard British weights and measures and provide “proper support” to the Royal Mail and Post Office.
As you can see, totally batty right wing grumpy old men fodder. I am surprised they didn’t make a GCSE in Rudyard Kipling compulsory for all students. And it was an utterly unelectable manifesto. So we all knew that UKIP were getting serious when in January this year Farage disowned the entire document, which he had signed. There are two lessons here. One is that Farage is an astute politician. The second is that you can never, ever believe a single word that he says.
Which brings us to the art/science of psephology, the scientific analysis of elections. For instance the Liberal Democrats can survive in a two party system by targeting a limited number of constituencies with very strong local candidates and with policies designed to attract protest voters. This tactic maintained LibDem parliamentary presence but ensured that it was limited. Obviously someone explained to Farage how his policies were taking UKIP nowhere. And that there was a far better route to success. Trying to steal constituencies from the Conservatives was never going to work sufficiently well. But there are large numbers of marginal Labour seats, especially in the North, that are there for the taking.
Blue collar workers, the “working class” are not natural socialists. Sure, they like the class warfare bits about stealing from the rich, but really they are mostly right wing, hence the popularity of the Sun and Mail newspapers. Many used to vote Conservative, but that brand has been toxified, largely by the BBC. Socialism is a middle class construct forced on the working class from above. A high percentage of Labour votes are really anti-Conservative votes.
The Labour party is now losing these voters hand over fist. Labour today is just as much a “rich toff” party as the Conservatives, maybe more so. It’s front benches are full of millionaire career politicians who have never worked in the real world. They are utterly out of touch with the common man. In Ed Miliband they have a leader with precisely zero working class credentials. They are ripe for a mass defection of voters. And the Labour brand is increasing toxified. Rotherham, Mid-Staffs, a trashed economy, PIE, lack of democracy for England and many other issues have shown Labour as being very nasty indeed.
Nigel finds himself in a position where he has to walk a very fine line. He has to talk the talk to retain his right wing, ex Conservative grumpy old men. But at the same time he has to present an alternative that is genuinely more attractive for Labour blue collar workers. And he is doing it brilliantly. Once you know what he is up to every policy, every speech, every interview makes perfect sense. He is so very clever at not alienating either of his voter bases whilst at the same time giving them both good reasons to switch to UKIP. Just look at what some of the policies are now:
- No tax on the minimum wage.
- Scrap HS2, all green taxes and wind turbine subsidies. HS2 is stupid and deeply unpopular. This policy alone could win seats.
- Develop shale gas to reduce energy bills and free us from dependence on foreign oil and gas.
- Open GP surgeries in the evening, for full-time workers, where there is demand.
- The law of the land must apply to us all. We oppose any other system of law.
- Prioritise social housing for people whose parents and grandparents were born locally.
- No cuts to front line policing.
You can see what UKIP are up to. And on divisive issues that could alienate one of their voter groups they are deliberately woolly, or just have no policies at all. They have no proposed income tax structure, for instance, other than the minimum wage promise. It is all very cynical and manipulative, carefully designed to attract the hard of thinking. For local elections they just make up policies that the local demographic will like, even if these are at odds with UKIP national policies.
Farage is interesting. He is a “toff” just as much as Cameron or Miliband is, but the left wing media, such as the BBC, don’t seem to mind. Maybe they see him as a useful idiot to be encouraged so as to split the Conservative vote. Also he is Teflon coated. He has been at the centre of several scandals that would have destroyed a Conservative politician, yet which, in his case, are quickly forgotten.
The election of Douglas Carswell as UKIPs first MP, with a genuine popular mandate, is going to change things a lot. UKIP are going to have a whole lot more credibility and a massive step up in visibility. Carswell will be in all the media all the time promoting policies at those two key demographics. The danger is that he might slip up, revert to type, and alienate the blue collar workers. But he is far too clever for that. And remember that several policy ideas that Carswell has previously been enthusiastic about are actually the exact opposite of what UKIP policy is.
So UKIP could win a clutch of seats at the next General Election, largely from Labour. But to get any further they need a lot more work. Just now they are opportunist carpet baggers with no intellectual integrity. And their core is still nasty, ignorant bigotry that we should have no room for in British society. But they are still vastly preferable to the evil of socialism and the woefully inept Labour party.