The Dark Heart of UKIP exposes Farage’s ambitions!
Posted by Greg Lance - Watkins (Greg_L-W) on 10/10/2013
is what gives the remaining 10% a bad name!
Dark Heart of UKIP exposes Farage’s ambitions!
With the insight of a NoTW editor!!
The dark heart
By Andy Coulson
Photos by Sudhir Pithwa
Being Nigel Farage has got to be fun. No pressure to produce proper policies, no real scrutiny of you, your colleagues or your members, a decent whack plus sensational expenses and a media that sit and wait for you to utter something mildly interesting. Usually in a pub. With a pint of beer in your hand.Truly, if Carlsberg did party leadership…
Two decades after he launched himself and his party onto the British public (oh no – bright, new bringer of change he is not) Nigel Farage must be feeling pretty good about life. Sitting at home, swirling a decent red (beer for the cameras only, I’d wager) he must shake his head in wonder at how things are shaping up for him and the UK Independence Party… and how easily the three main parties fell headlong into his trap.
How he must have laughed when told that a “senior Tory” had branded grass-root Conservatives “swivel-eyed loons”. During my days at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) countless negative stories were attributed to “senior Tories” when it turned out to be someone distinctly junior or even barely Tory. But just as on those occasions the sourcing of this story didn’t matter, the damage was done.
Farage boasted that traffic to the party’s website immediately trebled, but from such a low base that wasn’t difficult to achieve. No, more valuable was the sea change in media coverage. That one phrase completed UKIP’s transformation from political curiosity to fearless underdog.
It also reopened the wound inflicted in 2006 when David Cameron described UKIP members as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly”, an arguably accurate but, as it turns out, rather rash statement of strategic intent.
UKIP has a soft underbelly. It is, in a word, inauthentic. It is a party that claims to be anti-Westminster but secretly longs to be part of the club
In truth, the Conservative Party’s approach to UKIP has been misplaced for years and easily predates David’s leadership. Since UKIP’s birth in 1993 the Tories have at various times been dismissive, arrogant and downright rude about it. But those at CCHQ were not so cocky as to be blind to their challenge. Indeed a not insignificant amount of campaigning cash has been spent collecting data and holding focus groups designed to accurately identify the UKIP threat.
Unfortunately, as is often the case in politics, that work was rendered useless by the overriding instincts of the politicians. Fast-forward to Ken Clarke – one of this country’s most experienced, intelligent and able politicians – describing UKIP as “clowns with no positive policies” before this year’s local elections. Again, Clarke’s analysis is almost certainly correct but I’m sure he’d now agree the party’s campaigning efforts would have been better served if he’d shared his outburst with the bathroom mirror rather than the national media.
And so, almost by accident, the Conservative senior ranks have allowed their private thoughts to become fixed party policy. And that’s just what Farage was banking on.
As a result UKIP has become a club for disgruntled, invariably older Tories fed up with the leadership’s attitude mostly, although not entirely, towards Europe. More dangerously it allowed the party to present itself as the natural home for anyone fed up with mainstream politics and more specifically mainstream politicians. And that’s a thriving demographic.
This trend has been encouraged by the right-leaning media which, post Leveson, is more than happy to give the PM a bit of a slap by gifting Farage more column inches than he deserves.
UKIP’s strategy going forward is now clear. It wants coverage but not scrutiny. It wants to stay out of complex policy debate and stick to its superficially appealing but utterly unrealistic pledges, stepping in with a friendly “we’re over here” wave every time the “Westminster elite” inevitably screw up by doing/saying something that distances it yet further from the electorate.
For now this is a logical approach and one that’s reaping tangible benefits. UKIP has over 30,000 members – up a remarkable 3,500 since March and dangerously close to the Liberal Democrats’ reported 42,500 (and falling fast) membership. In this year’s local elections the party registered the best results outside of the big three since the Second World War.
More worryingly for David Cameron, around 60 per cent of those who have voted or say they might vote UKIP voted Conservative in 2010. Fully three quarters of a group of Tory members polled by YouGov said they were tempted – however slightly – to vote UKIP, many because they felt disrespected by the Tory leadership.
But David isn’t the only leader to be suffering a UKIP headache. Labour heartlands are threatened too and were the target of a recent UKIP party political broadcast. UKIP’s popularity is not limited to the south and southeast by any measure. Plenty of centrist or even right-leaning Labourites – of the type Margaret Thatcher was able to attract – like UKIP’s stronger immigration message. UKIP has finished in the top three in six parliamentary by-elections that have been held in Labourcontrolled seats since 2011 and Miliband’s more nuanced positioning on immigration is all about this Farage threat.
Nick Clegg has also tried to see off any incursion into his Lib Dem base but unfortunately wrecked a useful one-liner (I suspect written by his smart comms team) “UKIP is the party for a better yesterday” by attacking its supporters – not candidates – for failing to be sufficiently “modern”.
But for the Tories at least UKIP has a soft underbelly, a vulnerability that if effectively prodded and probed, might just reduce its threat to a less electorally threatening percentage.
UKIP is the very embodiment of that thing that causes brands to fail and stars to fade. It is, in a word, inauthentic.
A party that claims to be anti-sleaze but is riddled with the same problems of vanity and self-interest that inflict all the major parties… and before any real power has been secured or scrutiny applied.
A party of regular, nice guys – just like Nigel Farage – which has to email urgent warning letters to its membership in the hours after a British terrorist attack so as not to find itself accidentally inciting extremist views.
A party that claims to be anti-Westminster but secretly longs – and I mean longs – to be part of the club.
A party that claims to be for everyone but with leading female members who have branded it sexist. A party whose press office described former Tory chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi – the first Muslim woman to serve in the Cabinet – as a “bitch”, which was both nasty and, in my experience of working with her, utterly untrue.
And a party whose leader spits fury at tax evaders as “the common enemy” while failing to mention his own Isle of Man trust fund (The Farage Family Education Trust, no less) designed to help his family avoid inheritance tax.
Now you may argue that similar claims could be levelled at all the other parties and you may be right. The difference is that these organisations are not, at least as their USP, claiming to completely reinvent the political wheel. They use the currency of modern politics too loosely, of course: voters have heard the slogan “change” so frequently in the past ten years that they’re deaf to the word. But revolution is not their promise and the wholesale dismantling of the Westminster system is not their aim.
In contrast, UKIP’s very reason for being is to be genuinely different, and if it fails on that pledge then it simply becomes a less competent, less savoury and, from an economic point of view, less numerate alternative.
And let’s be clear: this is not a party suffering from organisational or philosophical teething problems. This is not a story of the under-funded minnow struggling against the all-powerful bigger fish.
UKIP is a party that’s been around for two decades, with a leader who has repeatedly tried and failed to get himself elected to the House of Commons. It’s a party well funded by donors who can afford to stick two fingers up at the Tories for a bit of rebellious fun and as revenge against a leader who refused to do their anti-European bidding. UKIP is properly old school. And not in a nice way.
But how to get to this underbelly?
First, UKIP’s power to motivate must be better understood and accepted. As Matthew d’Ancona, of this parish, says, “UKIP is the tiny figure in a blazer waving a fist at the -unstoppable cyber-titan of modernity.” My other favourite columnist, Matthew Parris, says it is a party that “distorts and simplifies the world”.
They’re both spot on but UKIP also has a Dad’s Army-like appeal, with supporters of a not entirely dissimilar average age. Just like Corporal Jones and co they are a tough bunch of buggers who relish the idea of a scrap.
Second, UKIP’s leader must be taken more seriously. We all know a Nigel Farage. Used to be a bit of a noise in the city, likes a drink, a decent suit (if slightly stuck in a “Michael Douglas: The Wall Street Years” rut), cunning and witty(ish). I suspect he’s good company at the bar, charming (as most Dulwich College old boys tend to be) and can be relied on for a half-decent one-liner.
Take this example, delivered to Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, in the European Parliament in 2010: “Who are you? I’d never heard of you, nobody in Europe had heard of you… you’ve got the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk.” Now tell us what you really think, Nigel.
But this is also a man who will describe the leaders of the EU as “bad people” (greedy, misguided, plain wrong… but bad?). Farage is also prone to behaving childishly. When Prince Charles was invited to give a speech to the European Parliament this wannabe world statesman decided to register his fury by sitting down during the standing ovation. Bold, revolutionary stuff, eh?
UKIP has a Dad’s Army-like appeal. They are a tough bunch of buggers who relish a scrap
Aside from their desire for an “amicable divorce” from Europe, UKIP’s policies are also inauthentic: a superficially attractive mix of populist fancies including a flat tax, a return to student grants, dramatically increased defence spending, a scrapping of all subsidies for renewable energy and “tens of billions” in tax cuts.
How will all this be paid for? The back of Farage’s fag packet reveals this will be covered by £77bn of cuts to public expenditure. Where exactly will these cuts fall and at what rate will the flat tax be set? The party will get back to you on that one as it’s still chatting it through. Inconsistencies, to put it politely, run through all policy areas for UKIP, and even its website carries an unusual disclaimer making clear that the 2010 manifesto should not in any way be regarded as current policy. It may soon need to extend the disclaimer to cover anything uttered by Farage in 2011 and 2012.
No, for Farage read “mirage”, and the Conservatives must work harder to reveal the truth about UKIP. The spending gap (some put it at £120bn) must be hung around his neck and jabbed at continually. It’s right that the public should know who and what they are voting for, and telling the Farage story fairly, accurately but effectively is the right thing to do – not least as the media are unlikely to derail one of their favourite games by doing so themselves.
As a small example, I’d like to see a straightforward YouTube-friendly package of Farage’s less pleasant and stranger utterances to balance out his self-made collection of populist rants against Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and various unelected Eurocrats.
Interestingly, it seems that there may be some internal rumblings about Farage as well. The party’s treasurer and biggest donor, Stuart Wheeler, said recently that his leader should be doing less media and allow others in the party to share the limelight. His concern, he said, was that poor Farage would end up exhausted, which some cynics might translate as meaning he’s getting too large for his loafers and should wind his neck in a bit.
UKIP, however, does have an authentic point to make about Britain. Mainstream politics has become disconnected from the public, and the statistics UKIP churn out on election turnout are broadly accurate and worrying.
This problem won’t be solved quickly: certainly not in time for the next election. But, as I’ve argued before, the rot can be stopped. The solution certainly does not involve slagging off the party that presents itself, however implausibly, as the answer to reconnection.
UKIP must be taken seriously so as to expose just how empty-headed it really is. Every utterance must be recorded and analysed, every speech given proper attention by some of the bigger, more ambitious young brains in CCHQ, every tweet matched where appropriate by a sensible question applying targeted pressure to UKIP policy. CCHQ should be concerned about the make-up of UKIP’s party membership and, of course, look for evidence of extreme views in their candidates and members. But to brand the entire party as racist or bonkers will always be self-defeating.
Europe will, of course, continue to be the drum that UKIP bangs the loudest. The Conservatives’ post election in/out referendum promise took the wind out of UKIP sails but more work will need to be done as next year’s European elections approach. On that issue, I’m in no doubt, William Hague is already burning the midnight oil.
The Conservatives should tread carefully on immigration but never tire of talking about -fairness, particularly on jobs, welfare, health and the cost of living.
Competence is also key. The UKIP machine must be tested as it serves as an indicator of its overall political credibility. That UKIP failed to include its own name on the London Mayoral ballot paper last year is a pointer that all is not well around the Farage photocopier. The donor defectors must be wondering what, exactly, their money is being spent on.
The Tories should also be cautious, but not too afraid of the threat of more defections. They always make the headlines and are loved by the lobby for the tales of betrayal and back-stabbing that they are. But it would take a big and serious name to really hurt. And that remains unlikely.
How to handle UKIP in the TV debates is a thorny issue. Farage has a bit of a point when he says that if UKIP “win” the European elections next year it would be strange for him not to take part in the leadership debates 12 months later. His argument has no precedent (not least as the TV debates have only happened once) but you don’t have to be a social media guru to see how his campaign could easily take off.
The Conservatives should meet the UKIP debating challenge sooner and have Farage boxed off long before the first TV debate. It should be led by a senior Cabinet member, not the PM, and I’ve argued before that Hague, as foreign secretary, is perfectly placed for some net practice on Farage’s preferred playing surface of Europe. But a handful of other outriders should be picked and trained to take on UKIP whenever and wherever it gets traction. On policy it should be taken seriously and seriously dismantled.
Some voices in the Tory ranks will say this strategy is wrong and that there are two easy ways to spike UKIP’s guns. First rely only on the straightforward message: “Vote UKIP, Get Miliband”. It’s a good message, has the benefit of being true and UKIP supporters – by three to one – would rather see a David Cameron-led Government than one led by Red Ed. But that message is not enough on its own.
The second option is to simply ignore UKIP altogether. Don’t give it oxygen and it will eventually fade away, the argument goes. But I think an increasingly significant number of Conservative supporters, beyond those members recently polled, are tempted, most only slightly, by UKIP and desperately want to see their party make the argument against in a grown-up,professional way. And they need to know and be told that David Cameron values their votes and is prepared to work hard for them.
His party can do this by attacking UKIP’s lack of authenticity, undermining its outsider status and energetically taking it on at every turn. As Corporal Jones might have said, “UKIP – they don’t like it up ’em.” But up ’em, prime minister, you must surely stick it.
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