Ukip was until recently a party with a couple of policies that were easy to understand – withdrawal from the EU and control of the country’s borders. This was underpinned by a simple fundamental philosophy – that the State had grown too big and needed severe pruning.
The party has expanded its membership impressively over the last year or two and is becoming ever more adept at dealing with the business of politics. Look no further than its tactical and sensible low profile at the start of the current pre-election phoney war. And consider how deftly the party has brushed aside the embarrassment of the Amjad Bashir defection.
Bashir now looks rather more like a potential thorn in the Tories’ side and the media caravan has moved on without exploring Ukip’s vetting procedures and candidate selection processes. Ukip has become much more skilful at manoeuvring around the elephant traps into which it used helplessly to tumble.
But in growing up, UKIP has also grown a left wing in opposition to the established libertarian, small state, anti-EU core so, rather like a pleasanter version of the Lib-Dems, it has more than one face to offer the public and a party that was previously maturing into a serious political force is now faced with schism.
Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s first elected MP, has moved to the Left since leaving the Tories and together with Patrick O’Flynn, a former political editor at the Daily Express, currently an MEP and the party’s economics spokesman, he makes up the vanguard of Ukip’s new order.
All political parties focus on how to raise more tax revenue from an already over-taxed population – by stealth if possible, or better still by making ‘the rich pay their fair share’. The alternative proposition, fewer taxes and less state spending is anathema to all parties and this sadly now includes Ukip too. O’Flynn’s proposal for a 25 per cent so-called Wag tax on luxury goods would have yielded a derisory amount of revenue, and although swiftly quashed by the leadership, betrays an unpleasant mindset that seeks to mine for votes on the back of class division and envy, which is standard tradecraft of the Left.
O’Flynn’s tetchy and condescending interview with Mark Mardell on The World at One last Friday was a setpiece in how not to do interviews. First, where some politicians have a face for radio, O’Flynn has a voice for newspapers. The man may not be able to do much about how he sounds but Ukip can choose whom they field and they can surely coach people – even their own spokesmen – so that they have a rough grasp of their brief. Under discussion was new polling that revealed that the majority view of business was that continued EU membership was desirable.
Not every BBC interviewer dealing with Ukip is as reasonable, measured and polite as was Mardell and his very first intervention went like this: “You’re saying that business was wrong [about joining the Euro fifteen years ago] and it’s wrong now but […] just saying ‘You’re wrong’ doesn’t really wash, does it?”
Short of sounding a gong or beating a drum, the signal couldn’t have been clearer: O’Flynn was straying off-piste. Undeterred, he suggested that multinational companies benefit from the EU’s complexity which they influence by powerful lobbying and that bodies like the CBI, the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of Commerce only represent big business. This is an inexcusable error from the spokesman of a party for whom business people caught in a tangle of red tape should be natural allies.
The point that O’Flynn should have made, of course, is that withdrawal from the EU would not presage the end of trade with Europe and a slightly more perceptive person might have explored how the questions in the polls were framed before suggesting that the respondents were stupid or selfish.
For the average ‘kipper’ the thing that previously differentiated their party from their homogenised ‘LibLabCon’ opponents was its readiness to part with the accepted consensus of the political tribe, to reject political correctness and to stick up for their own brand of robust common sense. O’Flynn makes no bones about his rejection of such people, who, he says, are away with the fairies.
The thing now, is apparently for Ukip to be ‘populist’ and to reject the ‘ideological purity’ of the traditional libertarian core. The elephant on the ward, naturally, is that the party has now pledged to maintain the NHS, free at the point of use with all its insatiable and unsustainable appetite for funds.
Ukip, with no risk of forming a government is perfectly placed to mock the preposterous position of Labour and Lib-Dems on infinite health spending and the Tories’ inability to tackle this weaponised monolith. Instead, it goes along with the general view that we must for ever cram more resources into the voracious gullet of the NHS.
‘LibLabCon’ is beginning to morph into ‘UkLibLabCon’. If the party’s spokesmen revile the previously mainstream opinions of its core members, they should not be surprised if that membership, old, grumpy and blazered drift off elsewhere as the general election approaches. For all his gay marriage, his ridiculous aid spending and his cowardly desertion of school reform, at least Cameron might just offer a referendum worth having as the EU collapses around Jean-Claude Juncker’s ears.