UKIP are Britain’s libertarian party of principle. They are the bold freedom fighters saying what must be said, with no thought to their own interests. They are taking on the wickedly tribal LibLabCon out of pure love for their nation. They are the antidote to the politics of advancement and self-service.
Or at least that’s what they used to say about themselves. As I’ve pointed out before, despite all the rhetoric they are on a journey to professionalise their party – and, ironically, have become increasingly guilty of the flaws they accuse others of possessing. Standing against anti-EU Tory candidates in 2015 is one example – doing so may salve their tribal instincts but does nothing to serve the national interest or to help us escape misrule from Brussels.
There’s further evidence in the first hints of what may be in UKIP’s 2015 General Election manifesto. Tim Aker, East of England MEP, UKIP PPC for Thurrock and head of his party’s policy unit, has done an interview with Prospect in which he lifts the purple skirts to flash some ankle about the platform they are planning.
(As an aside, Tim is also an old friend of mine – when I was Campaign Director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, he was Grassroots Co-Ordinator and we sat at facing desks for some years. One day someone will do the spider diagram of where the TPA’s alumni from the dark Gordon Brown days have ended up.)
Rather than go through it item by item, here are a few of the most important extracts of the interview.
Libertarian no longer
“We’re beyond left-right, authoritarian-libertarian—those arguments are for university [common rooms]”
This is an odd thing to say, not least because UKIP’s own constitution says “The Party is a democratic, libertarian party”. Nonetheless, it’s arguable that a recent interview with the man crafting their policies is a more accurate representation of their current view than a constitution settled some time ago.
Struck by the line, I did a quick search – for years, their chosen Google search blurb has described them as a “libertarian, non-racist party”. That’s gone, to be replaced by “Official site of UKIP, led by Nigel Farage.”
It seems the libertarian tag they’ve worn for so long has been unceremoniously ditched. I’d argue they haven’t been meaningfully libertarian for quite some time – supporting the ban on same sex couples getting married, calling to ban the burqa and so on – but this is still a change in how they view and present themselves.
In short, the supposed party of principle has decided that ‘common sense’ (their own, naturally) now outweighs ideas, consistency or principles.
UKIP is…”firmly against the bedroom tax.
We first saw in the Wythenshawe by-election the emergence of Red UKIP. Vote UKIP and protect your benefits was the cry then, and now we can see the adoption of the (inaccurate) language of the “bedroom tax”.
There’s also plenty in the interview about restrictions on those “people who have made a living out of having children so that they can get more benefits and a bigger house”, so don’t mistake this for a new but different consistency – in practice, it’s a confirmation that UKIP have decided to pursue yet more of the 1990s Lib Dem tactics which Farage has studied so closely. In one place, they will say one thing and in another place they’ll say the opposite; they’ll try to be both the defenders and the scourge of the welfare system. If you have a bedroom for a child, you’ll be clamped down on – if you have a bedroom you don’t need, UKIP “firmly” support your right to have it funded by the taxpayer.
Ukip has looked into public sector pensions: “I have, and then got very scared and ran away.” After a few moments, Aker adds that: “We haven’t looked into it.” He is clear, however, that Ukip will not suggest an increase in the retirement age.
We know that UKIP voters tend to be older, and it seems that this is now translating into a tribal protectionism of existing pension rights.
I’m afraid I don’t buy for one minute that Tim doesn’t know enough about public sector pensions to be aware that they are unaffordable and reliant on vast future commitments by taxpayers who are as yet unborn. We both worked on publicising the same reports and campaigns on exactly that topic at the TPA. For
Similarly, the facts of an ageing demographic are undeniable and well known. As the population ages, retirement ages must also rise – it’s simple mathematics.
And yet, our bold crusaders have apparently chickened out on both the public sector pension black hole and the demographic realities of the retirement age. Why? Electoral self-interest, it seems, is more important than doing what the nation needs to be done.
Could it backfire?
In short, UKIP have just done exactly what they accuse the “LibLabCon” of doing – putting their chances of advancement at the ballot box ahead of the principles and national interest which they claim to hold dear. It’s an understandable decision, in some ways, but it’s also a massive cheek. Come UKIP conference we will no doubt hear all the old tropes about how different they are from the “Establishment”, but their manifesto will be shot through with evidence that they are just the same – or in some ways worse.
The other question is whether this bid for votes will work. As a short-term tactic, it may prove successful – due to the failings of the main parties, the lingering fury over expenses, Farage’s artful rhetoric and a whole host of other factors, the insurgents have a good deal of credit with plenty of their target voters, who may well reward someone who tells them what they want to hear.
In the medium term, though, it’s hard to see how they can avoid trouble from this approach. Having built their brand so far on ideas of principle, bravery and plain-speaking, a decision to ditch all three could easily and explosively backfire. That’s what happened to the Lib Dems – how does Farage believe he can use their tactics but avoid their fate?