One of the more frequent claims by UKIP activists attempting to recruit me, particularly the younger ones, is that their party is an inherently libertarian one – one which stands apart from the three main parties (if you can count the Lib Dems anymore) in its focus on liberty.
Certainly a large proportion of the Conservative Future defectors have been libertarians or, to be more precise, anarcho-capitalists, who have become fed up with the Conservative party’s apparent statism.
I can’t comment on these young people’s experiences of their fellow party members since joining UKIP but recent polling flagged by Ipsos MORI’s Tom Mludzinski suggests they might be a little disappointed with the party’s voters.
Unsurprisingly, the second-highest concern given by UKIP supporters was immigration and race relations, presumably with the belief immigration is too high. Not particularly libertarian, really, as this leans towards free movement of people and labour. And, of course, if you’re an anarcho-capitalist then you don’t even believe in the state so border controls would be non-existent.
The polling also shows UKIP supporters to be generally Daily Mail and Daily Express readers – the press vanguard of hang ’em, flog ’em, kick ’em out reactionary conservatism – which, again, hardly endears itself to libertarian values. And, interestingly, the European Union is only sixth in the list of supporters’ priorities.
It’s right, of course, that these are all traits also common to Conservative voters but then the Conservative party does not claim to be a libertarian party – George Osborne making this very plain in 2009. At the same time, the polling shows almost half of the mostly male and over-55 UKIP supporters voted Conservative in 2010. Given David Cameron is generally on the left of the party and he leads a coalition with the Lib Dems, this suggests they switched because the Conservatives weren’t conservative enough for them.
Now, I will readily admit many of UKIP’s policies are more libertarian and generally more sensible than the current crop of Conservative ones – particularly where drugs, education and taxation are concerned – but what you are left with after digesting this polling data is a bizarre situation whereby UKIP – a party with even more reactionary voters than the Conservatives’ – is steadily siphoning off the latter’s most libertarian members.
A party riding high on protest votes with a membership largely at odds with the priorities of its members is a political car crash waiting to happen. Were UKIP to find itself in office, it would have to make the choice between disappointing its libertarian membership or its conservative voters. Or, to illustrate the point, what the Conservatives have done in coalition or what the Lib Dems have done.
I recall chatting to one of the more high profile CF defectors some time ago and asking if she had found her anarcho-capitalist views accommodating in UKIP. “Not really,” she answered. “But more so than in the Conservatives.”
Is that really worth splitting the right-wing, eurosceptic, vote? Is it really worth risking Milimuppet gangling his way to Number 10? Because, before you dismiss this as tosh, you would do well to remember how Ed Balls retained his seat. By 1,101 votes.