When Margaret Thatcher died last year Nigel Farage, the Leader of UKIP, declared:
“I am a Thatcherite.”
Pretty clear. This confirmed that distinct impression that he gave when he spoke at the Rally Against Debt a couple of years earlier – an event organised by the TaxPayers Alliance.
Yet since then the evidence is mounting that rather than being a straightforward conviction conservative, Farage is rather harder to pin down.
Yesterday Mark offer an analysis of UKIP as being a collection of five tribes – with views that often conflict
Often, only an appeal to the Leader can help resolve matters. Or can it? Even if we accept that UKIP policy is whatever Farage says it is, this still leaves us in a muddle. This is because Farage attempts to fudge the differences between the tribes rather than resolve them.
In different places, on different days of the week, Mr Farage offers backing to each of them in turn.
So: is Farage really Blue UKIP?…
There of plenty to suggest that he is. It’s where his instincts probably tell him to be. This Farage is the former City trader – the man who joined the Conservatives in 1978 when Sir Keith Joseph gave a talk at Dulwich College, when Mr Farage was a pupil at the south London school. He only left the Party in 1990 with the departure of Margaret Thatcher from the leadership.
In this adaptation, we have Farage the Kent resident, South East MEP, the smoker, the high profile ale drinker. Furthermore, this is someone who will promise to be brave on public spending cuts – braver than the Conservatives.
Earlier this year, the Daily Telegraph reported:
“Mr Farage will strike out in favour of cuts to the NHS, pensions, and all the other protected areas of public spending. He will pledge to end the ring-fencing of particular spending: “ridiculous arguments” he told me, specifying the NHS and the triple-lock on pensions. “No, given the mess we’re in everything needs to be on the table and thought about.”
That would all sound pretty conclusive. UKIP’s disinctive pitch was to “true” Conservatives. It would leave the Labour Party warning their supporters against UKIP being “more right wing than the Tories”…and the Conservatives warning potential UKIP voters against splitting the Conservative vote, and thus letting in a Labour Government.
That was how it was all scripted. But it is turning out to be not quite as simple…
…Or is he really Red UKIP…?
Could it be that Farage has been responsible for the recent lurch to the Left in UKIP? That – for whatever motive – he is responsible for that repositioning? For instance, the flat tax policy was summarily ditched in 2013. A change – apparently at his behest.
Then there was the startling was admission from him last month that he would be “very comfortable” with UKIP MPs sustaining a Miliband Government in the event of a hung Parliament.
Next, there is the curious incident of Farage’s opposition to cutting the spare room subsidy. When it comes to welfare reform, UKIP have turned into a chocolate teapot.
It’s all very well talking about the need for greater spending cuts in the abstract – that’s fine for gaining cheers at Taxpayers Alliance rallies. Or for getting an admiring TV documentary from Martin Durkin. But then when a spending cut is picked on by the Left for noisy demos, Farage runs for cover.
His remarks during the recent Rochester and Strood by-election show up the weakness:
“In answer to questions from the floor Mr Farage said the party was opposed to the Tory bedroom tax.
“But he stressed that “cuts to the welfare budget are needed.”
As Party leader, Farage appears to have the authority to adopt or ditch policies as he thinks fit. Thus his willingness – so far at least – to accept a policy of introducing a Turnover Tax is a strong Red UKIP signal.
Indeed, in this respect UKIP has actually placed itself to the Left of Labour. Ken Livingstone proposed the policy at a meeting of the Labour Party’s National Executive. It was rejected by Ed Miliband for being too anti business.
…Or could he be Grey UKIP…?
There is another strand within UKIP that sees its as the Pensioners Party. The new policy promising to protect universal pensioner bus passes shows a nod to this cohort.
Often, Farage will comment on social issues in a way that is solicitous to the outlook of older voters. For example the controversy about “ostentatious” breast feeding came about after he declared that “particularly people of the older generation feel awkward and embarrassed by it.”
Earlier he remarked that most people over 70 feel “uncomfortable” about homosexuality. This is the pessimistic “stop the world I want to get off” tendency. Although Farage is only 50, he can often manage to look and sound much older.
…Or is he Citizen Farage, the Leader of the People’s Army?…
Another reinvention for Farage is as a Russell Brand figure. This form of UKIP is about replacing the Lib Dems as an all-purpose protest party – albeit a much angrier version. Thus, for example, during his debate with Nick Clegg he called on voters to “topple the establishment”.
An advantage of this anti-establishment brand is that it can be used against the media as well as the larger political parties. So, for instance, after a series of disobliging articles in The Times the response from UKIP was to attack the journalists “privately educated” ‘chumocracy’ “.
And the decision by Mr Farage to hook up with Beppe Grillo in the European Parliament was a great pose of two insurrectionists, side by side
…Or could he even be Bright Purple UKIP?
For many years, Farage insisted UKIP was a “libertarian” party. He described himself as a libertarian. He personally advocates drug legalisation, contrary to his party’s policy.
Yet the unusual situation of him expressing a personal view which did not then automatically become party policy offers an indication that he accepts even his devoted followers have limits to what they will put up with.
Or is the answer to the question: Which one is the real Farage?…”All of them”
All political parties have their factions and different philosophical strands. The difficulty for Mr Farage is that his Party has grown into an alliance of opposites – socialists and free marketeers, globalising free trade modernisers and isolationists, libertarians and authoritarians. Being against things rather than in favour of things helps. Farage is all too well aware of the range of opinion in his Party, and has been adept at seeking to balance the various forces. How much success he will have in doing so during the scrutiny of a general election campaign is another matter.