Love them or hate them UKIP is a name that is certainly well known if not well liked on the UK political scene. UKIP has had a fairly easy ride in political terms so far, with sympathetic press from right wing Tories as well as Labourites hoping to undermine Conservative support. However as it has gained ground it inevitably is finding itself coming under much more scrutiny.
UKIP is finding itself coming up short under the media microscope, partly it is a victim of its own success, as it grows at speed it finds itself needing to field more and more candidates to prove it is a national party and no longer a fringe movement. In that quest for being seen as part of the mainstream, UKIP branch Chairman have reportedly being pushed to field as many candidates as possible – something that has led to the many, many exposes we have seen in the national media, as the views and backstories of these people become apparent.
UKIP compounds this problem by having little to no way of vetting or checking up on candidates, most of its funding comes from the EU, but it is illegal for the party to use those funds in national campaigns or on local candidates, meaning that local branches print their own material which is often heavily skewed to the candidates own biases and UKIP simply can’t vet the people that it puts up for election. As Farage himself said, he has no idea which UKIP candidates are ex BNP.
Speaking to UKIP members about the elections two things are noticeable: Firstly UKIP’s paranoia. Much of the party including very senior figures have been labeling press attacks against them as ‘smears.’ A smear is a slanderous attack, and it is quite clear that all the media is doing is reprinting things UKIP candidates have publicly said or posted. Smear that certainly is not. UKIP members more than others seem to see conspiracy in the attacks against them. Certainly Tory, Labour, and Lib Dem’s will be criticising UKIP; that is the nature of politics. It is not some huge establishment plot to find and repeat the negative things UKIP members have said, it is what parties do to each other. For so long UKIP have been desperate to be treated like a big party and be given the attention that they believe they deserve, now that they are getting it they seem stunned to realise that it isn’t all positive.
From talking to UKIP members it is clear that paranoia or conspiracy belief is not a new element in UKIP, many members have long believed that anyone who joins the party and subsequently leaves or is removed is at best a traitor or at worst a Tory/EU plant.
The second noticeable thing about UKIP’s approach to elections is their lack of expectation management. UKIP members, both senior and regular, often predict huge UKIP gains in council elections or national by elections. UKIP have done very well in some parliamentary by elections recently but the lack of expectation management leaves a bitter taste in activists mouths. When coming within touching distance of the first place candidates should be a cause for huge celebration for the party faithful it is instead tinged with regret as the party machine had hyped up the possibility of a win. Regardless of how UKIP do if it is better than they predict then it’s a chance to celebrate, if it is worse it nullifies it regardless of how good it is.
UKIP may well gain big on Thursday. It might scrape in with a passable result. However allowing talk of 50-100 council seat gains for a party that last year gained exactly 0 seats means that expectations are huge. With the added media attention that comes from declaring yourself Britain’s Third Party, UKIP can only expect more investigations from the British press who love a salacious scoop on ‘non – PC’ party representatives. Farage himself may be a very polished media performer, but many in his party, including senior figures as well as MEP’s do not seem to have Farage’s ability to present themselves in inoffensive terms.
There is of course another angle to this who saga. While many in middle England are shocked by the comments on immigrants, homosexuals, Jews and non whites that UKIP candidates have made, there are many, many people in Britain who agree with such thinking and would agree with some of the comments that middle class Britain finds so disturbing. UKIP in recent times has been moving from a single issue EU pressure group to a party explicitly targeting this demographic. Its emphasis on immigration and its loud protestations against Same Sex Marriage shows it is a party targeting the socially conservative working class vote. While UKIP may brand itself libertarian, its policy movements show its true views. Many who wouldn’t have voted for UKIP anyway will be shocked at the media exposure it has faced, but there are many who share similar views with the candidates that are being ridiculed in the press. UKIP HQ may sigh in frustration as unvetted candidate after unvetted candidate is dragged into the spotlight, but come May the 2nd they may be jumping for joy that the media highlighted their views.