Are UKIP inadvertently making themselves a magnet for undesirable views?
It’s not been a great week for the UKIP Press Office. A slew of embarrassing disclosures about the extremely questionable personal views of some UKIP council candidates came just as the renegade party of British politics was hoping for an upset in the local council elections.
It was a testament to the worry that UKIP have inspired in the higher echelons of the established parties, that the big guns were brought out to hammer home the message that UKIP were at best a joke, and at worst a dangerous cabal of conspiracy theorists, homophobes and proto-fascists. And there was no small amount of schaudenfreud in the twittersphere from Tories in particular. For the better part of 18 months they’ve had nothing but grim news whenever UKIP was mentioned, be it about yet another Councillor defection, a poll increase, or arguably more painful, being beaten into third in the Tory target seat of Eastleigh.
Labour to, were happy to put the boot in, letting the veil slip and revealing that they too are more than a little twitchy about the rise of UKIP. Whereas Labour had hoped UKIP would do them a favour by splitting the Right Wing vote, Team Milliband are noticing that UKIP do best, not in the Tory shires, but in Labour heartlands.
But do UKIP attract more than their fair share of loons?
Six candidates out of a list of over fifteen hundred is not a bad ratio. Of course we don’t know how many other ‘crazies’ have yet to be rumbled, but UKIP don’t have the resources to vet every single candidate, nor can they approve every piece of self produced campaign literature. The explosive growth of UKIP membership has not been matched by a consummate expansion of the Central Office capabilities. As Harry Aldridge, the well liked and respected former Chairman of Young Independence said this weekend, it’s far easier to manage inexorable decline than it is for UKIP to manage exponential growth. And it’s not as if UKIP have a monopoly on homophobia, as the recent case of a Labour councillor goes to show.
Still, as UKIP have become the party of protest, it is inevitable that it will attract some unhinged minds and frankly terrifying opinions. When you market yourself as the anti-establishment party, you welcome anti-establishment views, and not all of those will be palatable. To its credit, UKIP famously have an admissions policy prohibiting former BNP and NF members from joining the party. This, they say, it proof positive that racism and intolerance are not welcome in its ranks. The obvious counter argument to this of course, is that UKIP might be the only party that need such a policy.
So what is it about UKIP that seems to attract such an eclectic mix of views? It is partly to do with its evolution. Back in the early 1990’s the Anti Federalist League stood unashamedly as a single issue party, opposing what was then the EEC. They were understandably small in number, but small meant united, with clarity of purpose. The second phase of UKIP came in the late 1990’s, when Thatcherite Tories and the Little England Golf Club set joined, motivated by a shared rejection of Blairism, multiculturalism, and the seeming impotence of the Tories to stand against it. The waters were muddied further when the third wave started. Farage pushed for the word libertarian to be adopted by the party. At a stroke, previously homeless libertarians, many of the them young, thought they had found a refuge. And at the time, UKIP ticked a lot of boxes; flat tax, small state, a rollback of red tape etc. We are now seeing the fourth stage of UKIP’s development, as the party becomes a haven for any body who rejects anything, ever. Same Sex Marriage, the EU, immigration, wind farms, HS2, the political elite, foreign aid, political correctness. In its hunger for members and growth, the party has attracted members with often contradicting views; free traders and protectionists, libertarians and social conservatives, neocons and non-interventionists.
Even UKIP’s flagship policy of opposition to the EU has multiple bases of support. Little Englanders oppose fighting two world wars only to sleepwalk into Teutonic vassalage, whereas libertarians oppose the EU simply because it is yet another unnecessary centralisation of power.
It is not that UKIP attract wicked views because they are wicked. Rather UKIP attract those with wicked views because their hollow manifesto is the equivalent of Dr Who’s psychic paper; anybody can read into it whatever they wish to see. Anybody can find something they like in there.
As the party machine catches up with membership, this will change. The manifesto will be reviewed, and the crazies will soon realise that they have joined yet another mainstream party and quietly slink off to the shadow world of niche forums. For the time being however, UKIP will need to prepare themselves for more fruitcakes falling out of the picnic basket…. even swivel eyed loons wanting to prop up Syria’s President Assad