In positioning themselves as the broad party of protest, UKIP are reaping what they sowed
Last week’s revelations of a UKIP councillor who claims that Same Sex Marriage has caused flooding would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. UKIP are paying the price for being the Anti Everything Party, a party whose comfort zone is in lambasting everything that’s happened since 1953.
For such a small party, UKIP are a very broad church. Though this adds to its vibrancy and ragtag, amateure charm, becoming the Party-Of-Last-Resort for frustrated Britons brings with it dangers when trying to convey a unified message.
Though hardly a scientific analysis, social media profiles can give us at least some insight into what motivates UKIP activists. Look at the Twitter bio of those with UKIP in the name or the badge on their bio. It won’t take long to find lots of antis; anti EU, anti socialist, anti Left, anti Sharia, anti LibLabCon, anti PC. (I assume that last is reference to political correctness, not a fierce love of Apple products). UKIP have become a haven for those who see the modern world as something forced on them, not something they’ve bought into. It’s easy to be anti, to pick holes in things you don’t like. Far harder to present a credible alternative vision. This is especially true in a supposedly free market party, but with members who want price controls and renationalised railways.
UKIP in and of themselves are not cruel or nasty; Farage and Nuttall don’t sit on thrones of fetus bones while holding a Black Mass. However rapid growth, an anti establishment message, negligible central overview of branches, and a failure to nip previous high profile examples of intolerance in the bud, have made the party’s current woes inevitable.
The problem of loose canons is compounded by the party’s laudable stated commitment to free speech. The more experienced and politically savvy senior members know that commitment to ideological purity is the surest way to stay irrelevant. But the internal discipline needed to make the party electable is an anathema to many activists. If, activists ask, UKIP are going to suspend Cllr Silvester, how are they any different to the PC Brigade of LibLabCon?
And UKIP needs its activists. Its finances are improving but are a far cry from the sort of coin Labour and Tories will throw at 2015. In addition, UKIP has a far higher average membership age than the other three parties. This is a boon when one considers that the elderly always vote, but far less so when looking for leaflet fodder.
That UKIP have got previously apathetic people engaged in politics is clearly a good thing. They’ve shaken up the old three and made them at least a little bit more responsive. The challenge for UKIP is to move from being a loose confederation of people with disparate range of axes to grind, and towards becoming a professional party that can fill the void left, predominately by Labour, of a voice for socially conservative working class voters.