Saturday, 16 May 2015

Some thoughts after the election aftermath: UKIP

UKIP had an excellent general election, although the aftermath has been distinctly interesting. Whilst they only got one MP and their leader failed to gain a seat (for the seventh time of asking, which must be some form of record), their vote increased manyfold, with some candidates very close to winning. They also gained many more councillors and now control their first council. But they have turned victory into defeat very rapidly.

Their first big issue is Farage: he immediately stood down as leader after the election, as he said he would if he failed to be elected. However he did not rule out standing again. Only a few days later came the controversial meeting of the party's leadership, where his resignation was declined. Reports vary about what went on in that meeting, but whatever the truth it led to open warfare within the party. The main combatants are Farage himself and the party's only MP, Douglas Carswell.

The perceived wisdom was that UKIP would hurt the Conservatives; however at the election they took more votes from Labour. But UKIP cannot maintain this position for long, and the new leader will need to work out whether they are going to face to the left or right in the future.

UKIP seem to have gained the Liberal Democrats' 'None of the above' position as a protest party. Whilst many UKIP supporters are very supportive (as web forums show), they undoubtedly gained many votes from people who disliked the other main parties. This was exactly the same position that the Liberal Democrats formerly held, albeit the individual voters would mostly be different. Such voters could easily shift back again. Therefore UKIP will have to continue to position themselves in voters' minds as being 'different' to the other parties. That position may be hard to maintain if they become more successful, or the if the infighting continues for too long.

A 2017 referendum on EU membership may shoot one of UKIP's most precious foxes. However it may also play straight into their hands. It would be good if the party could decide on how a UK outside the EU would work, but that currently seems beyond them. Will they support or oppose the referendum? The hatred and distrust that many members show for David Cameron shows that they may well oppose anything he proposes.

I am unsure what UKIP should do with their immigration calls. On one hand mass immigration has caused social problems; on the other, UKIP have problems with racists within their ranks. Farage (or whoever leads the party) will have to try to clear out the more extreme elements and work out a position ready for the 2017 EU referendum.

They are largely a protest party, and there has been plenty to protest about. In particular the sexual abuse of children by gangs of men in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and elsewhere has understandably got many people angry. These scandals have been widely ignored, especially by Labour. But they need to be careful not to concentrate on cases where the abusers are ethnic minorities and the victims white, as opposed to the many cases where the abusers are white and/or the victims ethnic. Sexual abuse should not be made solely into a racial issue.

In addition, UKIP have rallied against what they term as 'LibLabCon' and 'the establishment' - the latter of which Farage mentioned in his non-concession speech. Leaving aside the fact that Dulwich-educated ex-city trader and MEP Farage is as 'establishment' as it gets, the more power they have, the less effective that call will become.

However great opportunities for UKIP stand in the large swathes of constituencies where they came second. It is easy to see the party throwing resources into these areas. However there is the caveat that what people on the east coast want may be anathema to their urban supporters.

The wild card is Douglas Carswell. The Essex MP had a reputation as a deep thinker before he moved from the Conservatives to UKIP last year, and the fact that his move was not criticised more says a great deal for the way he is regarded (this contrasts with the other Conservative MP who made the same move, Mark Reckless, who was roundly pilloried and lost his seat last week). Carswell is an unashamed right-winger who must be concerned by any move of UKIP to the left, and as UKIP's sole MP he will have a great deal of power and influence over the party's direction.

I see it as unlikely that Carswell would stand for leader; instead I think he will be content as acting as the power behind the throne, particularly if his wisdom will affect the views of his many friends that remain within the Conservative party. But the events of the last week makes it possible that Farage will not remain in UKIP for ling: the party seems to small for both him and Farage.

UKIP need to be careful that they do not turn their victory at the Euro and General elections into a massive defeat. But that might mean they need someone other than Farage at the helm.

No comments: