Alexandra Phillips was UKIP’s Head of Media for three years. She recently joined the Conservative Party.
When I was 24 I had a boyfriend. He was Cameroonian-Algerian, brought up in Africa, later lived in Paris and was in the UK working as a waiter. We met in a nightclub, and I was instantly drawn to his French accent and raffish insoucience. He would smoke Marlboro’s with a curled top lip, espouse radical anarchist philosophy, write politically motivated French rap and lived life with the effervescent friction of nascent rebellion. For four years we moved around a series of shabby rented houses, kept our own hours and company, dreamt big and believed absolutely in our little club of two.
But something changed.
My career progressed and I started mixing with a new crowd. I started noticing the annoying piles of mess he left around the house, the cigarette ends, the scrapes inflicted on my Vauxhall Corsa. His free-spirited charisma suddenly seemed immature and irresponsible. This was not the man I could see myself with years down the line. His roguish charm may have been beguiling, but it didn’t pay the bills or shine an optimistic light on our shared future.
My parents would later say they always knew we were never ‘a match’. Somewhere, not so deep down inside, I always knew that too.
Today I find myself in a similar position, having yanked myself out of a relationship that has dominated a significant chunk of my adult life, reminiscing about the good times but knowing that I am embarking on a new chapter. Knowing that I have grown up.
I filmed UKIP as a student journalist. Immediately I was captivated by Nigel, a larger-than-life character with magnetism almost impossible to ignore. Having lived and worked in the developing world, I had views on the EU that, while not promoted by UKIP, were adjacent to their policies. The idea that a supranational organisation was not only usurping the democratic sovereignty of the UK but having a deleterious effect on small producers, farmers and generic medicine supplies in Africa and India, through exploitative trade deals and copyright legislation, stirred me from political apathy, and here I’d found an organisation ready to take me in.
As I learned more about the party’s commitment to bringing back grammar schools, to the UK’s energy security over and above well-intentioned but overly-injurious carbon reduction initiatives, I realised I had found the closest thing I could to a political home at that time.
I knew UKIP wasn’t perfect, but also knew that they did not deserve such bad press when their views were broadly in line with a great number of normal, sensible voters. To demonise their political ideology was plain wrong.
When David Cameron called UKIP a party of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”, I concluded that he had failed to understand the membership of his own party. Rather than malign UKIP, he should have done what Theresa May is doing, and give a nod to the legacy of traditional Conservative values held by a huge number of the electorate.
Many Conservatives would ask me what I was doing with UKIP and often chide me and deride my decision. This behaviour typified the general reaction to the Party from all sides, spoon-fed by the media. UKIP were regarded as unsavoury oddballs.
But while this approach may scare off the majority from joining the ranks, when matched with an orator with the sort of resonance of Nigel Farage, many ordinary people instead felt ostracised and abused. While most cowered away from signing up, those who did, did so with unwavering commitment, as is requisite in order to face the accompanying stigma. But equally it pushed supporters underground, and for years polling did not represent the sort of results UKIP were able to garner.
With success comes increased support, and many new faces joined the party in 2014. Many were of exceptional calibre and promised a bright future for the party, believing, like I did, that by expanding beyond the base UKIP could appeal to voters across the political spectrum. But there came another group, attracted to the party’s aggressive, uncompassionate ‘alt right’ portrayal as spun by its opponents. Within six months the party had disintegrated into faction fighting, resulting in leaks, mistrust and chaos, wounds that are nectrotising today.
I have never been hard right wing. I do not like negative politics, finger pointing, black and white, right and wrong, villains and heroes. Life, which politics has a duty to reflect, is nuanced. I had started to feel like I did not belong. I stuck at it through loyalty, briefly considered standing to revitalise my interest, believing that through investing more, I could help steer UKIP towards change, but realised that getting further entrenched would have been akin to having a baby to save a marriage.
When Britain voted to leave the EU, I finally had a reason to put UKIP behind me. When Nigel stood down as leader, I no longer felt that it would be a betrayal to openly confess that I too, had moved on. The real catalyst came when Theresa May made her acceptance speech.
Even more so when I read about her plans to offer households some of the profits of shale gas, when I saw her sticking two fingers up at taboo and committing herself to the reintroduction of grammar schools.
“Why would you trust Theresa May? She’s not going to deliver!” came the clamour from former associates.
The simple fact is, neither can UKIP. One seat in Westminster does not a majority make. And while it has been vogue in certain circles to interpret the appointment of ‘Leavers’ to positions of prominence over Brexit as a cynical act of vengeance, I find this implausible. I instead see the pragmatic placement of those with a vested interest to jobs where their hands are on the appropriate levers. If she had delegated responsibilities en masse to ‘Remainers’ I would have reason to doubt. She didn’t, and so I don’t.
I do believe that without UKIP acting as a vehicle for the vocalisation of a mood, ignored and suppressed for decades, we would have limped on for much longer without a referendum, becoming increasingly entangled within the Gordian Knot of legislation that comes with ‘Superstatehood’.
But unpicking those knots is complex and delicate. Politically, it is major surgery; it cannot be done swinging an axe with a bloodcurdling bellow. It will take expertise, delicacy and prudence, and requires absolute conviction to steady the hand.
I may have run away with the bad boy of the neighbourhood for a few years, and had a bloody good time, but realised I’m more suited to the boy next door. Even better, he’s grown some balls and got some swagger. I’ve had my fun, but now I’m ready to settle down.