Labour, Tory, Lib Dem, or just a political geek, we can all find something to dislike and fear about UKIP
They’re just not going away, are they? This week UKIP membership smashed through the 35,000 mark putting it in the same bracket as the Lib Dems, a party of government. UKIP are the political equivalent of Doctor Who’s psychic paper; people see what they want to see. And although that may ultimately be their undoing, for the moment it gives everybody else a bespoke set of reasons to loath Nigel Farage and his supporters.
The Tories have always been the primary victims of UKIP’s ascendancy. For decades the Conservatives had a monopoly on the center-right vote, with nearly 3.5 million paid up members at its height. But UKIP quickly became an Ersatz; an ideologically pure Conservative Party free from the soft centrist mush a party feels it can dabble in when its flanks are secure.
UKIP leached off members and activists at a time when all parties are struggling to get boots on the ground and leaflets through letter boxes. UKIP offers disgruntled and disillusioned Tories the sort of red meat Cameron kept locked away in the pantry; euroscepticism on speed, immigrant bashing, climate change derision, the “ton of bricks” approach to crime, the right (if vague and uncosted) noises on tax and spending, and a pledge to rebuild the armed forces to Cold War levels.
Compare that with hug-a-hoodie, eco friendly Dave, and it’s not difficult to see why CCHQ wish Farage and his outfit would quietly go away.
Labour arrived late to the anti-UKIP party, but probably have more to fear. Not so long ago, there was serious talk that UKIP was secretly set up by Labour to undermine the Tory vote. But no more. For the truth is UKIP have had their fill of retired Colonels in Hampshire and unreconstructed Thatcherites in Essex. Tories who were going to defect have already done so. Fresh from maulling the Tories, the blood spattered Purple wolf has scented new prey; working class Northern voters.
Just as the Tories took their core for granted, Labour banked on working class Northern towns being theirs by right. These voters would never bring themselves to vote Tory, and the Lib Dems were confined to the suburbs and student heavy enclaves. This freed Labour to target the socially liberal metropolitan small p Progressive vote. And for a long time it worked; three elections in a row, no less.
Yet slowly it has dawned on Labour that UKIP’s best parliamentary election results came in traditional Labour, not Tory areas. In Wakefield, Rotherham, South Shields, Wythenshaw and Blackpool, UKIP found themselves pushing against an open door. Only decades of tribalist loyalty and UKIP’s still maturing election machine prevented these forays becoming full blown insurgencies.
As with the Tories, UKIP seem to offer traditional Labour that which they crave, and that which a London centric party leadership seem unwilling to provide; reservations about immigration, a tougher line on welfare, euroscepticism, patriotism, a bit of rich bashing, the straight talking, rough-around-the-edges honesty so respected in the North and so sneered at in Isslington. For Labour’s dirty little secret is that its grassroots are socially conservative but with a distinctly working class flavour. Hence UKIP’s swerve to remodel themselves as ‘the Labour your dad voted for’.
On the face of it, the Lib Dems should have nothing to fear from UKIP. In terms of policies the two are poles apart. But although UKIP won’t be taking many voters away from the Lib Dems, they have taken something far more valued; the title of ‘party of protest’.
Decades of being the smallest of the three main parties compelled Lib Dems to seek solace in other places; they claimed their outsider status as a badge of honour. But then they went and got themselves into government, and overnight became the Establishment they’d always derided. The sting was made all the worse by the events of the first 18 months of the Coalition. The Lib Dems were the lightning rod for any and all criticism of the government. People expect the Tories to be nasty, they didn’t expect it from the Lib Dems. And the many Lib Dems had come to believe their own propaganda, that things would somehow be different under them.
They weren’t, and now UKIP revel in lumping Clegg’s lot in with the others in the ubiquitous LibLabCon mantra.
Even non aligned politocos have reason to dislike Farage and his party, and it has as much to do with style than policies. Political geeks form ourselves into cozy little sub communities, with a common vernacular and an implicit agreement that the world should be viewed through the prism of ideology and spreadsheets. That’s how politics is meant to be done. It’s neat and tidy and certainly not for outsiders.
This is why we have such an issue with UKIP. They aren’t neat, they’re not tidy, and goddammit they’re getting ordinary people involved! UKIP’s appeal cuts across socioeconomic and regional lines, and we don’t like that because it doesn’t fit our models. Scandals and gaffs seem to make UKIP stronger, and we don’t like that because that doesn’t compute either. UKIP connect with the great unwashed in a way our clipped and impenetrable dialect can’t.
UKIP are like the popular, drunken jock who staggers into the laboratory of OCD researchers, moving papers around and scribbling drawings of knobs on our whiteboards, all while being cheered along by a mob. The outside world has come crashing into our sterile little sanctuary, and we don’t like it.
So next time you feel compelled to give UKIP a verbal kicking, remember you’re in very diverse company.