Any party has its tribes – last year, Peter Franklin documented some of the once-powerful tribes that have been lost over the years, and in April he studied some of the ruling tribes today. The development of a range of philosophies, cliques and movements is a sign of a party that is both large enough and old enough to develop, sustain and people such tribes.
UKIP is well into that stage of its development. 21 years after its foundation, it has experience more than its natural share of internal tensions, leadership jostling, thrills, spills and re-inventions. As a result there are five major tribes to be found within its borders – the garb of each is modelled by Nigel Farage in Carla Miller’s cartoon above. There is, inevitably, some overlap between them but each is an important current within the UKIP torrent.
Once the core of the party, Blue UKIP are the Tories in exile. Characterised by the phrase “I didn’t leave the Conservative Party, the Conservative Party left me”, they consider themselves Thatcherites and the political equivalent of De Gaulle’s Free French, battling for the liberation of the party they once called home. Like De Gaulle, some of them have come to hate their former compatriots who have not followed their path as much or even more than the EU, the actual enemy.
Low tax, pro-business (but real business you can see, not American business) with a crust of social conservatism, free traders but anti-immigration, The Lady remains their political icon. They prefer their party when it is acting as the economic and social conscience of the right. The Bruges Group, named for Thatcher’s famous speech, remains a meeting place for many of the Blue UKIPers. For many years they pursued the habit of voting UKIP in European elections but helping Tory candidates to fight Blair if possible – their attitudes have hardened distinctly since David Cameron became Tory leader (and chose to insult them).
For many years, a caricature of such UKIPers was the dominant stereotype of the party - Kent-based, blazer-wearing and Telegraph-reading. Prominent members include Stuart Wheeler, the party’s former Treasurer (who keeps a portrait of the Iron Lady on his office wall), and their not-so-secret hope is that Lord Tebbit will defect, bringing the official torch of the Thatcher years with him.
They may have risen to prominence far more recently than their Blue companions, but what is now known as Red UKP has its roots relatively early in the party’s history. Gerard Batten, their first Party Secretary and from 2004 their MEP for London, comes from a more leftish worldview than most of his fellow party co-founders, for example. Alan Sked, its first leader, is distinctly a man of the left – indeed he recently harked back to the lost tribe of left-wing eurosceptics when founding a pro-nationalisation anti-EU party.
Those early tinges of red aside, it is really over the last year that Red UKIP has gained clout. The Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election in February saw UKIP denouncing the rich and offering to “protect your benefits”. What started as a hunt for Labour votes has ended up entering their bloodstream. Rhetoric about being the “People’s Army” (of which more later), declarations of war with “the establishment” and criticisms of Cameron and Osborne’s background (despite the private education of Farage and a host of others) has attracted new members who believe the party’s role is to smash the rich.
Patrick O’Flynn MEP famously used his speech on “UKIP’s Economic Plan” at their conference to propose an envy tax on luxury goods and a turnover tax on companies (regardless of whether they are profitable or not, a recipe for driving troubled firms into bankruptcy). Farage threw out the so-called WAG tax two days later – but the lasting fact is that the audience of UKIP members cheered and applauded their Economic Spokesman when he put the ideas forward.
There are more radical plans afoot within Red UKIP, too. A fringe meeting at the same conference discussed the need to “prise” money out of the rich, argued in favour of taxing inheritance and urged the renationalisation of the railways, for example. What may once have been clothes of convenience is now the permanent garb of part of the party.
It is a fact that UKIP’s electoral base is older than the average. As a symptom of this, what we might call Grey UKIP has become hard-wired into the insurgents’ thinking. Even more than Labour or the Conservatives, they cannot afford to annoy older voters.
Some of that is reflected in their emphasis on social conservatism - such voters made it worthwhile for a self-described “libertarian” party to suddenly oppose the right of consenting adults to formalise their love through marriage was a remarkable departure (they’ve since deleted references to libertarianism from their blurb), for example, and nostalgia for grammar schools speaks to much the same audience.
On the economic front, the quiet dominance of the grey vote can be seen in their policy on pensions. Tim Aker MEP, UKIP’s Head of Policy, has already pledged that they will not countenance an increase in the retirement age and ditched what was previously an open opposition to unfunded public sector pension liabilities.
Unlike Red UKIP, Grey UKIP has no organisation or leaders, most of its members have never considered their membership of it, and it does not agitate – it does not need to, it is so numerous that the party’s leadership follows its interests automatically.
People’s Army UKIP
Bedecked in camouflaged uniforms, the People’s Army, we are told, is on the march. It hates the “LibLabCon” and “the Establishment”, and it has a penchant for clambering on tanks.
This is perhaps Nigel Farage’s most potent line of attack: that the liberal, metropolitan elites who hate ordinary Brits and employ foreign nannies have stitched up the political system, rigged the economy in their favour, ripped off their parliamentary expenses and are laughing at us all behind our backs. The elite in Westminster are allied with the fat quangocrats, the multi-national corporations and the smug “comedians” on Radio 4 whose idea of a joke is to say “Daily Mail” a lot in relation to things of which they disapprove. If you don’t have time for that exposition, just look at a politician who drinks pints and smokes fags - what could be less Islington?
It is a powerful pitch both because it is, to some extent, true and because it speaks to the gut instincts of a lot of people – particularly the ‘left behind’, living outside the capital, lacking a university education and still suffering disproportionately from the financial crisis.
It has given UKIP their first nickname, their best headlines and – crucially – a vast surge in membership.
Proudly anti-intellectual, the People’s Army knows what it is against (banks, bankers, toffs, Brussels, immigration, human rights, political correctness, busybodies, jobsworths and Little Hitlers) but its weakness is that it is not necessarily for anything (except the abolition of the things it is against). Like Red UKIP, it began as an electoral and rhetorical tool – but now it makes up vast tracts of the party’s grassroots.
It’s worth remembering that the majority of the party’s footsoldiers have joined within the last 18 months, the People’s Army phase. They know little of the previous two decades of history, development and technical debate on the EU issue, and care rather less. Their experience and enthusiasm is for the party as it is presented now – red tints where once there was Thatcher and libertarianism; “Westminster” used as a dirty word rather than the home of democracy.
The trend is perhaps best embodied by Louise Bours MEP, the party’s health spokesman, whose approach to politics tends more towards shouting than contemplation. It is effective within its target market – though, as those at the top of the party know, that could prove to be a difficult tiger to ride over time. Even Farage, whom they hero-worship, could get himself into trouble if he put himself at odds with them.
Bright Purple UKIP
The newest development, and potentially the most interesting, Bright Purple UKIPers are those who identify as libertarian, direct democrat, free trading and outward-looking. Fundamentally optimistic about Britain and the world, they are distinctly less uncomfortable with the idea of immigration or Same Sex Marriage than the party’s official line, and believe that their position holds both more worthwhile aims and greater long-term potential.
If this type of UKIPer sounds a lot like Douglas Carswell, that’s because he is a Bright Purple UKIPer. In evidence, just consider his book on iDemocracy, his regular challenges to “nativism” on the campaign trail, his victory speech challenge that “We must be a party for all Britain and all Britons, first and second generation as much as every other”, his visible discomfort with some of his leader’s wilder outbursts or his overriding positivity about the way in which life has improved in recent years.
Such ideas have a minority following in UKIP, particularly after the influx of the People’s Army, but this tribe’s members are more likely to be in influential positions within the party. They aren’t out to defeat their camouflaged colleagues, rather they hope to point them in what they consider to be a more productive direction. Notably, Arron Banks – who gave £1 million to UKIP in October - counts himself as a Bright Purpler and feels ideologically very close to Carswell. I gather he plans to fund an online campaign to promote such thinking within his party, and his resources make his clout considerable.
What of the chief?
Of course, one man makes the decisions and sets the directions of UKIP: Nigel Farage. The activities of the five tribes matter, but what matters most is which one’s clothes is the party leader wearing? Tomorrow we will reveal the answer.