As an introductory note: this goes some way to responding to Alex's article from last week, but I'm also outlining why I think the constant criticism and dismissal of UKIP as a political party is the very key to their success.
|Nigel Farage campaigns for UKIP candidate|
Mark Reckless in the Rochester by-election
(source: Daily Telegraph)
I find it bemusing when people talk about UKIP as if their very existence is a curse. In reality, UKIP won't win the election. The very best they could hope for is a coalition, and judging by the legacy of the Libdems, they wouldn't be making many changes. But this doesn't make their purpose in politics redundant. They have an uncanny ability to highlight the problems in our society, expose underlying issues that plague the political system, and turn the concerns of people into the concerns of the politicians. In recent years UKIP have also had the best track record for engaging young people in politics- a sector of society that previously abstained from making any real contribution to our democracy. Ultimately, UKIP are an ideal means of improving the level of democracy in our electoral system: UKIP's ability to engage with the disengaged means that a huge proportion of its supporters have never voted before in their lives. Democracy serves the purpose of finding the majority will of the people; the more people voting, the more effective our democracy can be.
Alex has highlighted an example of a popular UKIP policy on an issue which other political parties have ignored for generations- immigration. No one likes the subject because the rhetoric is seen as precariously close to racism, and it is avoided like the plague in a careful conformity to political correctness. Alex, as so many of UKIPs critics love to do, has made the implication that UKIP are somehow obsessed with immigration to a degree that doesn't reflect the concerns of the public. But we underestimate the prevalence of this issue in today's society. In May this year, YouGov reported that 57% of people in the UK placed immigration as one of their top 3 most important political issues. To emphasise the weight of importance here, the figure reported for concerns surrounding health in our nation was less than half that figure.
This begs the question: why are UKIP persistently branded as racists? The answer is simple. The accusation stems from ignorance - ignorance leading the unwary voter into the trap of common misconception. It may come as a shock, but UKIP aren't actually anti-immigration. When you scrutinise their policy, you find that, rather than implementing measures to heighten discrimination, they are actually fighting against it. As it stands, the gates of our kingdom are left wide open to any poorly-educated, barely-skilled European who jumps at the opportunity to leave sky-high domestic unemployment and take a slice of our prolific welfare cake. And yet, as a result, we are left with no room for a highly-skilled Indian engineer or a well-educated Chinese doctor, who doesn't benefit from a free movement deal within the EU. What UKIP suggest is a rational discrimination on the basis of talent. What we have now is an irrational, borderline-racist policy, which discriminates against everyone based on race unless they happen to be European.
I won't spend the whole of this article parading UKIP policy, but it's important to be aware of what they do stand for, before pulling three policies out of a hat and drawing lines through them as Alex did in his article. UKIP have popular policies on inheritance, popular policies on policing and popular polices on the devolution of power, but for some reason, those who don't like UKIP don't even bother looking at what they're up against.
Ed Miliband, in the last few days, has decided to mount an assault on UKIP's EU policy, highlighting the economic catastrophes that he predicts would occur following a possible exit from the EU. Most people will probably take any economic guidance from Miliband with a pinch of salt, but, regardless, there are plenty of arguments that suggest Britain would not lose out economically following a 'Brexit'. For a start, Britain is the biggest export market for the EU. The decision to leave doesn't have to end with a nasty divorce, trade deals abandoned, and all the rest of it; it's in the interests of both Britain and the EU to maintain the economic transparency between nations we have in the current arrangement.
Alex is right in saying UKIP are fond of the Norwegian arrangement, where we would abandon full EU membership but remain within the EEA. He's also right in saying this would do very little to stem the flow of immigration. But he's pulling the wool over your eyes regarding the economic consequences: UKIP still have a strong argument. The EEA guarantees us not only a place within the EU single market, but also expands our free trade deal to another three nations. In terms of decision making, Alex is right that we would sacrifice influence within Europe, but how much do we really have anyway? As it stands, tax payers in the UK are being penalised for a good economic performance. As the poorest nations in the EU are left drowning in the waters of their own failing economies, we are left to rescue them. Yet what we would gain in terms of decision making powers is highly attractive to any UK voter. We would retain all decision-making powers on domestic justice, home affairs, and foreign policy; we would be granted a seat at the World Trade Organisation (which we currently don't hold), creating opportunities for new bilateral trade deals world wide; and, on top of all this, our monetary contribution to the EU would be reduced by over 85%.
I was listening to Theresa May, the current Home Secretary, speak in Chichester last week, and was shocked that even the most senior politicians are still dismissing UKIP, and the issues they bring to the table. She was absolutely convinced, that, when it comes to the general election next year, people will spontaneously forget the concerns about immigration that have burnt in the forefront of their minds for over a year, and turn all their attention to the economy.
It won't happen.
The population is not educated in politics or economics. They don't care that George Osborne has achieved economic growth while the rest of the European economies teeter on the edge of further recession, because they don't understand. What they do understand, though, is that, as Alex pointed out, sixty thousand Europeans are claiming Jobseekers Allowance in the UK. They do understand that 80,000 jobs are advertised to European workers while the UK is still plagued by unemployment of the magnitude of almost 2 million. UKIP's success in the general election hangs in the balance: a balance of emotive versus rational politics. If the Conservatives connect with voters on the subject of the economy - educate them, and improve their understanding- the UKIP sheep might rejoin Cameron's flock. But if they can't, if UKIP's policies are dismissed rather than discredited, people will vote with their hearts and their hearts will vote for UKIP.
UKIP have an ingenious media presence that attracts voters like bees around a honey pot: Labour are notoriously strong on the NHS, the Conservatives consistently take the lead on the economy, and yet, when they are stuck in a debate with UKIP politicians, all they manage to talk about is Europe and immigration. In political football, UKIP are always the home team.
Farage has somehow constructed a media landscape in which UKIP's weaknesses aren't even mentioned; it's as if they don't exist. My point here is that UKIP's opposition immediately give Farage the upper hand by fighting him on his favourite terrain. Alex has written 1,700 words designed to damage UKIP, but has only addressed the areas in which UKIP thrive. Whether he, or I for that matter, would agree or not, is irrelevant: UKIP;s growing support shows that they are very strong in all three areas he broached in the article. We need to stop blaming the media for pandering to UKIP; we need to stop claiming UKIP policy is noise and nothing else; and, finally, we need to highlight every other issue on which UKIP policies are either weak or, perhaps, just don't exist at all.
Take health, for example: a UKIP spokesperson suggested that people who don't require urgent treatment, should be able to pay a fee, and then queue jump. This goes against everything the NHS stands for, would almost certainly be abhorrent to almost all of UKIP's voter base, and yet has never received any genuine attention from UKIP opposition or media.
On a different note, 97% of scientists testify to the existence of global warming, but UKIP would disagree. The words of wisdom from the mouth of UKIP's education spokesmen, Derek Clarke, must have been severely influenced by the 3% of scientists who denied the existence of global warming. He said 'All teaching of global warming being caused in any way by carbon dioxide emissions must also be banned. It's just not happening.' Not only is their an overwhelming presence of irrational thought amongst UKIP's personnel, but, under party policy, this type of ideological thinking would be ingrained into the minds of the nation;s children. Brainwashing has no place in our system of education.
UKIP have a particularly interesting economic policy too: written on pages torn straight from a Thatcherite/ Friedman textbook, their attitudes toward the nation's economy are the epitome of free market ideology. This creates a neat little paradox, given that most UKIP voters are generally financially restrained and relatively uneducated people to whom the idea of pure free market economics would be an absolute anathema. However, on a more serious note, it's an indicator of the level of mystery surrounding the party. Even the supporters don't know what they're supporting.
A final piece in the puzzle of UKIP policy that just doesn't fit the jigsaw is a point I raised earlier. UKIP and immigration are like cheese and biscuits - they always seem to go together - and yet this is one of the many policies which don't add up. How can Farage support membership of the EEA, a group which advocates free movement throughout the entire 30 member nations, and simultaneously oppose that very same free movement?
People need to stop biting chunks out of UKIP - it just makes the party more and more determined. Politicians need to stop firing media cheap shots at UKIP policy: dismissive bouts of heckling do nothing to educate the electorate about the flaws on the UKIP 'shopping list'; instead, they just erect a media pedestal on which Farage can preach. He conducts the slickest PR operation of any of our political parties: for him, any publicity seems to be good publicity.
50% of people know UKIP's policy on immigration; over half of the population know UKIP's policy on Europe; and yet no more than ten percent of the population know the details of any UKIP policy on any other issue. Why? It's simple. UKIP are weak in every other area of politics: Farage plays the party's strengths, but it's our job to look for the weaknesses.
What's really required to beat back the UKIP offensive is genuine scrutiny; we should demand explanations on every policy they put forward, not just dismiss them. Eventually, when the curtain of double standards is pulled back, everyone will realise that, when numbers go into the UKIP political calculator, they rarely ever add up.