Saturday 27 May 2017

Does UKIP Have a Future?

Another night, another poll. The latest for The Telegraph puts the Tories on 44% and Labour on 38%. A gap of six points, which follows last week's YouGov effort reporting a five per cent gap. I'm trying not to hope, so that excitable little beastie is getting packed away as we look at what's going on at the bottom of the polling. There's still no sign of the LibDem revival, and as we've talked about them recently it's time UKIP had their turn. For poll after poll has them tanking badly. Four per cent in this ORB poll, two per cent in YouGov. To think this ex-party, this brittle husk held together by small mindedness and the ambition to keep hold of one's councillor allowances once held British politics to ransom. Times they are a-changin' and they're changin' bloody quickly.

If UKIP doesn't disintegrate following post-general election acrimony, its dirty bomb of backward, hateful politics could see it eke out a long half life on the fringes of politics. The odd council seat could tip into its radioactive soup, but for the most part the party's own decay shall keep it contained. Harmless if handled properly, at least until such a time when powerful forces need a faux anti-establishment outfit for their establishment interests. Broken as the party is (and never forget who smoked them), shedding votes, members disappearing, it does still have a little room for manoeuvre. Parties may well be aspects of classes and class interests, but they still have agency, and it is within UKIP's gift to remain half-way relevant.

Understanding this requires a very brief lesson in recent history. At the European elections in 1999, 2004, and 2009 UKIP slowly built up a base of voters as the preferred middle finger to mainstream politics. It guaranteed air time here and there, but they were not regarded with the same degree of seriousness afforded the less influential but even more repugnant British National Party. They were a nuisance, particularly to those in mainstream parties wanting to get to Brussels. And that way they could have stayed, were it not for Dave's uncharacteristic stand over a matter of principle: equal marriage. The blue rinsed bigots, the turnip taliban, and those who get excitable (if not excited) about what other people get up to in their bedrooms decamped from the Tory party en masse. Constituency chairs, Association board members, councillors, the yellowing grass roots were all outraged by Dave's concession to 21st century life. UKIP with its strident anti-Europeanism, little England sensibilities, its free market fundamentalism and, under Nigel Farage, its "libertarian" opposition to equal marriage hoovered these people up as members and supporters. It was this more than anything else that catapulted UKIP into the big leagues, it was a crisis in the Tory party that gave the UKIP project legs.

As we know, Dave completely and disastrously misread the danger to his own electoral coalition. Rather than fight them politically, he conceded ground on the EU referendum and immigration to try and lock them out from the right. And, well, here we are. However, while UKIP rode high and bagged themselves a couple of Tory MPs, from the standpoint of their own viability they made a critical mistake. In the local elections following the equal marriage crisis, in 2013, the year UKIP went big, they gained 139 councillors. In 2014, they went up 163 and won the European elections. And in 2015 they gained another 176 local authority seats. These gains came disproportionately from the Tories and yet, part connivance, part stupidity - I can't decide which - UKIP was said to pose Labour an existential crisis - a position they were happy to talk up. Lazy London commentators lapped it up too. Nigel Farage was the authentic voice of the non-metropolitan British working class (which they always identify with middle-aged-to-elderly white men). And while they were an irritant, they did not endanger Labour. For example, in the 2016 local elections, Labour was defending the 2012 high watermark established under Ed Miliband, with poor poll ratings and months of public infighting, the kippers netted just 25 while Labour suffered a net loss of 11. Despite the hype, Labour support was more resistant and proved so time and again.

Every new (or renewed) political party has to build a base around a stable(ish) set of interests if it's to enjoy a long shelf life. UKIP's error was believing its own hype. Had it gone harder on the Tories after 2013, it is reasonable to assume it would have been more stable and better placed to resist the exodus back. Last year they had the chance to change course, but instead plumped for the empty-headed Paul Nuttall, a man lacking thought beyond that morning's Daily Mail headline. He, his dimwitted followers, and not a few arms-length cheerleaders thought a Scouse accent would be enough to see Labour's northern strongholds fall to a purple surge. If only someone had argued this was bollocks all along. If UKIP wants to bump along the bottom of the polls and fall behind the Greens, then they should carry on with the "Labour first" strategy.

That said, humiliation in Stoke followed by an organisational and vote collapse, it appears that Nuttall has finally twigged, that it might be an idea to go for the voters that made the party and Farage a household name. He's standing in Boston and Skegness, a Tory-held seat in which UKIP finished a very strong second in 2015. It is also the Brexit capital of Britain. Yes, even more so than the Potteries. At the UKIP manifesto launch, apart from the ritual opportunistic sop to the NHS, this was "blukip", not "red UKIP": of holding the government to account on any Brexit backslides, of stressing one-in-one-out immigration over Theresa May's aspirational "tens of thousands" figures, and calling for a splendid isolationist foreign policy to keep Britain terrorism-free. Stuff plenty of hard right Tory voters would find attractive. The problem for UKIP is it might be too little too late, and the window of opportunity has slammed shut with them on the wrong side.


Phil said...

Broken as the party is (and never forget who smoked them),

"Tell your grandad, he'll be interested."
"Grandad? We were doing about the U K I P in school today. Do you remember the U K I P?"
"Oh, yes. UKIP, we used to call them. Did they tell you about Paul Nuttall?"
"Paul... not sure... I think they did..."
"Well, the names don't matter. It's just, there was this time when the leader of the party tried to get elected, only he couldn't do it and we got a Labour MP elected instead. UKIP were never the same again. That was a good result."
"Oh, you mean Stoke - they did say about Stoke! Grandad... were you there?"

(I'm not entirely joking.)

Speedy said...

UKIP are finished.

Sadly I do not think the polls reflect the parliamentary reality - Labour piling up votes in safe seats. The older, conservative (with a small C) voters who get out are still going strong for May-be.

Shai Masot said...

UKIP's big mistake was to elect an idiot for a leader. They should have gone for one of their non-idiots instead.

Phil said...

Actually, the main problem for May is the kipper-Tory vote is more likely to pile up in seats they already hold. On current projections Labour will still lose seats, but it might not be anywhere near the landslide predicted.

david walsh said...

Did anyone see the Nick Robinson session with an Ipsos Mori voter panel yesterday? I guess not as it seemed to be restricted to the news channel. The panel was supposed to be made up of the "jams" and given Nick's past politics I guess it was sobering for him. Most people seemed to see JC as a paid up member of the human race compared to TM,and with the exception of one women who had been a lifelong labour voter who had become a don't know but "now knew who she was going to vote for" on an anonymous basis (and I know what I'd put on my canvassing card if I'd met her)all were prepared to consider voting labour. A straw in the wind, but I'd love to see what other focus groups are currently saying.

Lidl_Janus said...

No-one's writing the dissent to this post, and I'm not stepping up either.

As for the Tories, this is at minimum the worst election campaign they've run in my lifetime - worse than any previous winning one, for starters. In 1997 they had the excuse of knowing they were fucked and acting out of manic desperation. The 2001 and 2005 efforts were shitty, but at least had some element of sincerity to them. I don't think I've ever seen a campaign, though, that combines such emptiness, cynicism and condescension - "you're all going to vote for us anyway, so we'll shit on you and call it chocolate ice cream. What's your alternative? Jeremy Corbyn? Ha ha!"

That said, talk of a Labour victory is overheated until we see at least one Labour polling lead - or at least a sub-40% poll for the Tories. The polling averages are still around CON +9, and need to be at CON +4 to deny a majority, and LAB +4 for biggest party.

David Walsh said...

And from HuffPo news of another focus group behaving oddly..............

BCFG said...

Is this the same speedy who has been a cheerleader for UKIP telling us they represent the 'working class' and that liberals should stop telling the working class what to think, blah, blah, blah.

So speedy is the anti UKIP Ukipper! He certainly hates and detests everything Corbyn represents.

This is how politics should be, a stark choice between differing visions and ideologies. On the one hand we have the Tory party hell bent on persecuting the elderly, the weak, the vulnerable, immigrants and the disabled, a sort of Nazi lite incarnation if you like. Incidentally old folk, if they are coming for your pension, your benefits and your homes just what will the Tories target next?

On the other hand we have a Labour party offering a vision of hope, unity and decency.

Funnily enough Howard Fullers’s politics are closer to Nazi lite than liberal, which is interesting given his preoccupations, but actually not at all surprising.

Whether decades of tabloid bile can be enough for this election is unclear but it is clear which way the wind is blowing. You just can't credibly claim anymore that going round the world bombing the shit out of people is a consequence free endeavour. And it doesn't matter how loudly those mouthpieces of the establishment such as the media, Fuller and speedy rant and rave, people are beginning to see though their bullshit.

asquith said...

Yes, when one reads BCFG's posts, "hope, unity and decency" are exactly the impression one gets from them :)