Bagehot at the Economist argues that UKIP are a rising threat to the UK political mainstream, citing party leader Nigel Farage’s personal appeal and political/oratory skill as the reason;
At a recent public meeting outside Bristol, in south-west England, Mr Farage played the packed room (Tory-faithful types, ranging from pensioners in blazers to brawny small businessmen) like a virtuoso. Tiny model Spitfire fighters flashing at his shirt-cuffs, Mr Farage told the crowd what it wanted to hear. Britain is run by “college kids”. The dead of two world wars are being betrayed by Westminster politicians “impotent” to defend democracy. Britain has turned its back on its “kith and kin” in the Commonwealth. It is an “outrage” that eastern Europeans can come and claim benefits. “Charity begins at home,” shouted Mr Farage, and the 250-strong crowd roared.
Mr Farage is indeed good at what he does. Like most on the fringe right, his is a very straightforward and easy position to defend. The extreme unlikelihood of UKIP ever standing in an election with the ambition of actually winning means he can be gratuitous with the invective and the populism, with no concern for responsibility or realism. Come the 2015 election I think he will be a popular and important figure, dictating where a lot of votes go and shaping areas of debate.
But am I really scared that UKIP might take a chunk of seats, and start to exercise any real control? No. The reason is that, shiny-suited, smooth and silky Farage aside, the grassroots of the party is a dirty secret which will not impress the electorate.
I had the pleasure of witnessing a debate before the 2010 election at the University of Birmingham with the local candidates. The red-faced, wiry old fellow representing UKIP prefaced his opening speech with “I joined UKIP because I’m a very angry man”. He then went on to suggest that the solution to most social problems is to (a) leave the EU, and (b) reintroduce hanging, to roars of laughter from the crowd. (These are even, apparently, the solutions to problems with very little to do with European politics and nothing at all to do with crime and punishment.)
This is where I think UKIP are still a fringe pressure group who don’t pose serious challenges. Underneath the well groomed face is a shaggy, unkept mass of bigotry which just wants to shout and shake fists. Arena politics is not suited to self-confessed corybantic grumblers, nor are we likely to be indoctrinated by bizarre non-sequiturs.
As an afterthought, this is what you get when you Google ‘UKIP’;
I think it might be a pretty damning sign when you feel compelled to identify in a summary of your party that you’re “non-racist”. If you’re cutting it so fine that you need to provide clarification then there’s something very wrong…