What now for UKIP?
Having recently lost their raison d’être and their charismatic leader, you’d think these would be uncertain times for the UK Independence Party. But Brexit, Labour’s autosarcophagy and Theresa May’s crowning as supreme ruler of the realm have gifted our purple and yellow friends with a rather unique opportunity – should they be savvy enough to take it, of course.
Now, I think it’s safe to say that UKIP polarise opinion, but I, unlike many of my peers, take a more balanced view of the party. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I don’t think they’re the worst thing since unsliced bread either. However, if they are going to emerge from this post-referendum rubble as a credible right-wing outfit then a few things are going to have to change.
The consensus among political observers is that UKIP’s progress has now ground to a halt. Despite courting nearly four million votes at the last General Election, they have failed to capitalise on their spectacular breakthrough at the European parliament vote in 2014, and since last May, the ‘People’s Army’ have stagnated in the polls. It would be churlish to play down their role in securing and winning the EU referendum, but that is the success of the entire leave campaign, not one they can claim as their own.
Contrary to popular belief, Nigel Farage’s abdication may well provide them with the kick-start that they so desperately need. Yes, he can be pretty funny at times, but UKIP are not a rugby club on tour. Ostensibly, they are a serious political force, and now is the time to grow up and tone down the rhetoric.
What they require is a new niche in today’s fresh political landscape, as well as a balanced, statesman-like leader with a comprehensive platform to suss it out. Hitherto, they have been remarkably good at poaching working-class votes from traditional Labour heartlands, irrespective of having a privately educated, ex-city boy Thatcherite with question marks over his tax declarations at the helm.
Moreover, in stark contrast to its parliamentarians, UKIP’s rank and file are decisively left-leaning when it comes to economic issues, as this rather groovy graph courtesy of the Centre for Research on Direct Democracies denotes:
Obviously, socialism was debunked many moons ago, and we don’t need another party trying in vain to resuscitate its rotting forty-year-old corpse. But a few nods to safeguarding flimsy UK industries such as steel and agriculture will woo plenty of blue-collar workers worried about their communities and livelihoods. This after all, has been an incredibly successful blueprint for the likes of Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, with broad appeal across society secured, as well as the quiet obedience of their respective parties’ free-market factions.
Having said that, a less grotesque architect will be a necessity for UKIP, as the British electorate have a proud history of repelling tacky firebrands and fringe politics. ‘Nawty Nigel’ – let alone Trump or Le Pen – is bad enough as far as Joe Public is concerned.
But the bookies’ favourite to replace Farage, Steven Woolfe, could well be his cup of tea. Woolfe is smart, composed and media trained, without being hobbled by the trademark swagger of his predecessor. On top of that, his mixed-raced ancestry will help to quash some of the labels that his party are – in my opinion – unfairly and feverishly tarred with.
UKIP have a pretty solid springboard from which to launch this assault should they choose to do so. The Daily Express are official backers; they are the only unbending Eurosceptic party in the country and their enviable commitments to Swiss-style electoral reforms are irresistible to the disenfranchised inhabitants of moody coastal resorts and dilapidated northern manufacturing hubs. The populace have had a taste of direct democracy, and now they have an appetite for it.
Furthermore, I can’t see the new Prime Minister endorsing proportional representation, ballot initiatives, local plebiscites or MP recall powers any time soon, and her status as a Remainer as well as the Home Secretary who presided over record levels of net migration will not sit well with many. UKIP – along with seventeen million others – will be watching her like a hawk to ensure that “Brexit means Brexit” actually means Brexit.
Still, as long as May delivers the goods then we needn’t be too concerned about any of this, as UKIP really are no threat to us whatsoever. If anything, they are complimentary. We can work in parallel with them by offering market based solutions to key issues such as poverty, mass immigration and social mobility, but whilst the Tories can pinch a few floating voters from Labour, this lot have the potential to smash their support base into smithereens. It is of course up to them whether they seize the moment, scrub up and take a seat at the big boys table, but if they do, we can toast the Oppositions’s resultant demise together.
Best of luck, kiddos.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty