UKIP has the weakness, but also the strength, of being a bunch of amatuers. There is a chaotic feel about it. A party swarming with gatecrashers. Nigel Farage was elected an MEP in 1999 and so is notionally a professional politician. Yet voters sense that he has retained an anti establishment, almost anarchic, disposition. He is in the pay of the Euroopean Union but has not been bought. He has made every effort to bite the hand that feeds him as sharply as possible. All done with great good humour.
There have been various other UKIP MEPs but in a pretty shambolic manner most have come unstuck. We can vaguely remember Robert Kilropy-Silk flouncing off in a huff about something. Even those that stuck with the Party have tended not to bother too much with all the boring meetings and votes. Pointing all this out has not done UKIP much harm. It has rather confirmed that if you want to insult the European Parliament then sending along plenty of UKIP representatives is a rather good wheeze.
Choosing representatives for the House of Commons – or indeed the local town hall – is a more serious matter. Anyone who has been canvassing will have found those voting UKIP in the Euro Elections routinely volunteer that they will not be doing so at a General Election next year – or even in the council elections taking place on the same day.
Given that Tory MPs will (one woulod hope) be among those who have been canvassing the notion that a UKIP victory in the Euro Elections will induce some kind of panic revolt against David Cameron seems unlikely. The unreconstructed malcontents – led by the former leadership contender David Davis MP – will make the most of it. But given the frequency with which they seize of Government difficulty they will be discounted. It is equivalent of those endless attacks by the Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott on Nick Clegg.
This does not mean that the Conservatives should be passive about the prospect of UKIP topping the poll in the Euro Elections. Ignoring UKIP is not reasonable. Nor is insulting them. Either approach would only antagonise the millions of people planning to support that party. Where UKIP are at fault this should be pointed out in a measured way. Many free maketeers who joined UKIP must wince at its descent into economic nationalism. The suggestion that there is a fixed number of jobs, and that if an immigrant comes in and takes a job it necessarily means forcing a British person onto the dole, does not stand up to scrutiny. It is the type of zero sum game fallacy that was favoured by the Luddites.
That is not so say the message won’t have “traction” among those pessimistic about their prospects and comforted by the idea of a scapegoat. Labour blame the bankers, UKIP blame the immigrants. Both UKIP and the Labour Party pitch to those who are hard up and yet to feel the benefits of economic growth. Increasingly UKIP has adopted a left wing tone – for instance the “defend your benefits” message in the Wythenshawe by-election. Although as unemployment falls and prosperity spreads the messages of gloom and resentment, though potent, will recede.
Rather more trivial are the offensive messages of individual council candidates on social media – akthough the scrutiny is legitimate. UKIP are fielding over 2,000 council candidates this month, were they expected to check all of them? The short answer is: “Yes.” At least in terms of a internet search of their public utterances. So should the other political parties check their own candidates. It is not as if one person needs to check all the names. The task can be divided up. If a political party doesn’t bother to make these checks of a candidate before selection then it can expect some difficulty when its rivals do so afterwards. Still, as noted above, UKIP trades in its amateur status and has generally behaved responsibly in excluding those with racist views when these have come to light. Certainly a chumk of UKIP voters are racist – Andrew Gimson spoke to some of them in a pub in Havering. Then so are some Labour and Conservative voters.
Matthew Goodwin offwered the following analysis:
When probing these issues social scientists rely more on evidence than opinion. Consider one example, which is a large-scale survey by YouGov of voters from all parties at the 2009 European Parliament elections.
It included a classic measure of racism, asking voters about the extent to which they agree or disagree with the following statement; ‘Non-white British citizens who were born in this country are just as ‘British’ as white citizens who were born in this country’. That Ukip is not packed with racists is reflected in the fact that a clear majority of its supporters -some 64%- agreed with the statement, a figure only six points lower than the national average but almost
twice as high as the figure for supporters of the extreme right British National Party. We used this survey for an academic study of Ukip’s electorate and found that only a minority of their supporters endorsed other measures of overt racism: for example, only 22% agreed that employers should favour white applicants over non-whites, and less than two out of every ten agreed that Black British citizens are less intelligent than whites. Does Ukip attract more intolerant voters than Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats? Yes. But do the majority of Ukip voters endorse racism and is Ukip an openly racist movement? No.”
So claiming that UKIP is a racist party because certain individuals within are found to have made racist statements is not a credible claim.
The important message to UKIP supporters is that the Conservatives will offer an in/out referendum on EU membership. The General Election will be crucial in this respect as Ed Miliband would deny this choice. David Cameron has said he would only remain as prime Minister in a coalition if the referendum was agreed to. Still, that is a decision for the General Election, the Kippers may muttter. However the Euro Elections offer a referendum on a referendum. It is a measure of the importance placed on it by the British people.
As Dan Hannan put it:
In politics, it is important to reward people when they do the right thing. For years, we complained that none of the major parties would give us a vote on leaving the EU. Now one of them has, and we should acknowledge it. Responsibility in politics works both ways. You should use your vote to reinforce good behaviour as well as to punish failure. A democracy gets the politicians it deserves.
Even if people wish the UK to leave the EU for the wrong reasons – to embrace isolationsim rather than globalism – a referendum is the answer. Even if they think that a renegotaitaion would achieve no concessions at all – or hardly any – then a referendum is the answer. If they are cynical about the Conservative commitment to it then all the more reason to seek to convince them by the emphasis that is given to it.