Tuesday 23 December 2014

UKIP and the Perils of Professionalism

UKIP have the opposite problem to the Conservatives. The Tories are a tuned machine being tested to destruction by the clods in the control room. UKIP on the other hand have a leadership who, in the main, know what they're doing but are cursed with a jerry-rig thrown together from whatever rusty parts they find lying around. And so we've had a kipper in a winnable seat resign after "chinky/poofter" gate. Another expelled for "jaw-dropping racism", and the purge of Neil Hamilton and the suspension of Winston McKenzie's branch. So, belatedly, UKIP are trying to professionalise the operation by marginalising the deluded and damaged, and dumping the bigoted and terminally dim. Good luck with that.

As Britain's most backward and misanthropic political party, they do run the risk of alienating themselves from what makes them "special". UKIP aren't into identikit politics, at least where their members are concerned. Unlike the besuited quinoa-quaffers said to inhabit the LibLabCon (snigger), the misnamed people's army are real people drawn from real life. That there Kerry Smith, for instance, the peasant shooting "rough diamond" from the council estate merely articulates the ignorance one can expect from such quarters. He's a proper prole and has the stupid to prove it. At least according to Nigel Farage. But the figures don't lie, poll after poll show UKIP are Britain's most working class party. It's full of uncut stones or, to be more accurate, grey rock like Smith. They're the mouthy know-it-alls from down the pub, or the former councillor who's been in for aeons who understands their community and - especially - how a bandwagon can secure the old allowance. They're the small business person having a precarious time, the middle-aged bloke discomfited by the number of brown faces on the telly and foreign names in the paper, or the parents worried for their kids as 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians take the jobs and spam the housing queues. They are the most backward and backward-looking sections of our class, twice blighted by the incapacity to look beyond the end of their noses and a whiny, self-obsessed, almost narcissistic victimology. Insecurity and hopelessness are the default destinations on the politics sat nav.

Their weakness is UKIP's strength. The promise of dystopic politics only goes so far. Farage's peculiar chemistry, which is lost on the 80%+ immune to his singular charm comes from a projected familiarity large groups of mainly working class men have or have had with business people of Farage's ilk. His person is of the gaffer who doesn't soft soap bad news, bullshits, or pretends to be your friend. He knows where he stands with you, and you with him, and from that grows a strange sense of respect. It has a similar root to Thatcher's appeal among working class Tory voters. Except for UKIP as a whole, it's stuffed full of character-types its voters are likely to know, meet or interact with regularly. That includes the more "colourful" ones too.

And here lies UKIP's problem. They urgently need to professionalise their operation. They have many veteran campaigners in their ranks who do know how to win elections, but in local branches it won't always be them who are the driving force. It might be the more eccentric, like our chum Winston. The necessity of electoral competition demands the most able take the reins. Then there is the small matter of former Tory donors. As small numbers of the most reactionary sections of capital see in UKIP a vehicle to pressure the Tories or supplant them completely, they need to know their million quid here, their 300 grand there is being made to work effectively. Turning in a creditable, well-managed, slick operation is the prerequisite for further future funds. But in starting to purge the idiots, it runs the risk of resembling the others. A UKIP run with message discipline, designated soundbites, and no gaffes? Sounds like a boring, racist New Labour.

If the local face of UKIP everywhere is suited and booted, coiffured and manicured, chiseled and cookie-cutted; the familiarity, the perceived social proximity between voter and party stretches out and starts resembling the real distance between their interests and the hard right policy platform UKIP stands on. And when that happens, the party will begin to wither and eventually pass as a moment in the long-term decline and fall of British conservatism.

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