Ukip is not just fighting the Conservatives, Labour and the rest in this election. It is fighting the liberal-dominated media. Not surprisingly, it is getting a pretty dusty reception.
Nigel Farage’s People’s Army already has one election victory under its belt. Last May, it became the only political party in 100 years (other than Tory and Labour) to win a national election. It polled 27.5 per cent of the vote despite a relentless media barrage – in print and broadcasting – designed to show that it was racist, sexist, corrupt, homophobic and downright reactionary.
Hardly a day passed without the front page of The Times (the most assiduous in this witch-hunt) unearthing a political nonentity, with some kind of link to Farage’s party, who had said something not to be repeated in polite metropolitan society. The BBC and Sky duly followed suit, pursuing this “news” in the confident expectation that the purple warriors would be driven back to the caves from which they had briefly emerged.
It mattered not a jot. Ukip duly chalked up its political triumph and followed that with two by-election victories, the second of which in Rochester and Strood flatly confounded the predictions of the press and broadcasters that the Ukip bubble would burst.
Different tactics are being pursued this time. Ukip is not being so much confronted by the media as ignored. The party’s opponents have worked out that attempting to trash Farage’s gang as a bunch of neanderthals runs the risk of encouraging others to join the uprising against the PC values that dominate not just the other Westminster parties but also large sections of the scribbling and talking classes. Better to deny Farage the oxygen of publicity than risk arousing the primitive passions that stir the breasts of his potential supporters.
More in sorrow than in anger, it is being reported that Ukip has declined from its peak of 28 per cent a year ago and is now on the slide as voters come to their senses and realise that taking a punt on Nige is a sure fire way of putting that dreadful lefty Miliband into No 10. (Against this it should be also reported that Ukip’s “slow puncture” in the national poll of polls is from 17 per cent in early January to 14 per cent now, still comfortably above the level at which it ceases to pose a serious threat to the established parties).
Yesterday, Ukip again confounded its critics by producing an independently costed manifesto that would have done Margaret Thatcher proud: an early referendum on UK membership of the EU (supported by well over half the population); a targeted crackdown on immigration; a free trade deal with Europe; an extra £3 billion a year on health; abolition of inheritance tax (going even further than David Cameron’s much applauded £1 million exemption announced 24 hours earlier); tax cuts across the income scale; reduced subsidies for Scotland; more financial support for marriage; scrapping tuition fees for science and maths students; and higher spending on defence while slashing the aid budget. It even wants to bring back smoking in pubs.
“We want our country back,” said Mr Farage by way of explanation as he unveiled potential savings of £32 billion a year.
It is true enough that Ukip’s horizons have narrowed as it has been forced to confront the harsh realities of a first-past-the-post voting system. It is probably true, as the Daily Mail reported, that the party is concentrating its attention on just ten of the 650 seats being contested on May 7. And for devotees of realpolitik, there is really only one seat that really matters for Ukip – Farage’s chosen battleground of Thanet South. If he loses, then the People’s Army has truly lost its general.
We will have to wait and see. But whatever happens, Farage has conjured up a genuinely remarkable political uprising. He has made it possible for people to debate immigration without being shouted down; he has put Britain’s European destiny on the table, and he has defended the much abused middle classes while giving white van man a break. Above all, he has flicked two fingers at the sanctimonious brigade of kill-joys and hypocrites that police the nation’s thoughts and conversation.
It is striking that the liberal media (which means nearly all of it) and the established parties no longer pursue Farage for having all the wrong attitudes. His manifesto passed off virtually uncontested, as if his critics and his rivals accepted that in the perfect world imagined by Ukip, his policies were just plain common sense. The Conservatives’ only substantial retort was that a vote for Nige would let Ed in by the back door. And the media feigned outrage at the fact that there was only one black face in a manifesto document produced by a proudly non-PC party.
They are not exactly trying to kill Farage by kindness. But they sure are giving him the ‘ignoral’ treatment – doing their best to wipe him off the nation’s political radar screen.