Tomorrow night, BBC Two will air a 50-minute expose of Nigel Farage’s home UKIP branch, produced by the man behind Benefits Street. The party is bracing itself as the Times (£) reports that Meet the Ukippers will spark a ‘race row’.
Earlier this week Channel 4 provoked a storm of complaints with UKIP: The First Hundred Days, a dystopian mockumentary which once again chose to focus on race, with the added spice of a huge raiding force of former soldiers kicking in doors and snatching illegal immigrants.
Douglas Carswell must have watched with his head in his hands.
Whilst both pieces will have their flaws – The First Hundred Days had plenty – they nonetheless paint, in broad strokes, a picture of a party a long way from libertarianism.
Indeed the UKIP government portrayed by Channel Four was strikingly authoritarian, with its near-omnipresent ex-military border police. Yet whilst the editing and style was deliberately hostile to the party, at root the programme was representing UKIP policies – and acknowledging their popularity with the public.
Libertarianism only got a single muttered mention, when lead character Deepa Kaur explained her stance on gay marriage.
On a related note, Matthew Goodwin – of Revolt on the Right fame – took to the Times Red Box this week to set out UKIP’s so-called ‘2020 strategy’: a plan to secure a permanent place in British politics by breaking into the working-class, urban north.
In pursuit of this new core vote – “the older, white working-class vote” in Goodwin’s words, which is heavily concentrated in the north – we have begun to witness the emergence of ‘Red UKIP’, a political phenomenon in many ways well to the left of Labour.
It is, as both Goodwin and Wigmore highlight in their pieces, largely incompatible with the old, liberatarian UKIP.
It may be that the party manages to pull off a more extreme version of the old Liberal Democratic tactic of being different parties in different parts of the country: nationalising, tariff-raising national democrats in the north and Wales; low-tax, small-state, freedom-loving Thatcherites in the south.
Yet barring that it looks as if the Carswellite tendency might have a real fight for relevance on their hands once Farage relinquishes the leadership. Many UKIP strategists appear increasingly convinced that the future of their party lies with disaffected Labour voters, and happy to tailor a policy offering to them.
Nor should they underestimate the potential damage of being painted out of the media image of the party.
Had The First Hundred Days been a better programme it might have made Kaur a Carswellite. Her discomfiture with the Government’s immigration crackdown could then have been used to explore philosophical differences within UKIP, rather than merely imply such differences between UKIP supporters and right-thinking, normal people.
Yet unless UKIP’s libertarians can carve out a higher profile themselves they risk losing their place in the party’s popular image, which would make it even harder to attract sympathetic voters or fresh recruits to their wing.
Nobody should under-estimate the power of cultural producers, especially in television, to define a party over the long term. Not whilst the Conservatives are still struggling with the left’s dominant history of the Eighties – or the Thirties, for that matter.
History suggests that there isn’t sufficient space in the age of the universal franchise for an independent libertarian party of any significance. The best bet for supporters of freedom is to be a dynamic, visible and influential part of a broader coalition in a major party.
If Carswell didn’t feel comfortable sharing a rosette with the Conservative Party’s authoritarians and wets, what future do he and like-minded UKIP supporters really have in a party that may outbid the Tories on both counts?