British politics is in a bizarre state indeed. Take the penetration of Miliband-esque ideas into new Prime Minister Theresa May’s discourse with the grand proclamations of a new ‘industrial strategy’ as one example. Or take the frankly disturbing usurpation of reason and normal political practice by Corbyn and his motley group of western-hating weirdos (Diane Abbott, of all people, as Shadow Home Secretary!). Contemporary British politics is now almost impervious to reasoned analysis. Is UKIP perhaps the strangest of them all?
UKIP, many hoped, would be nothing more than a brief aberration in British party politics. Dismissed as being BNP-lite and thus not worthy of notice, its climb in the polls went relatively unchallenged until 2014 when David Cameron, under pressure from his party and now UKIP, announced the ill-fated referendum of this past June. In 2016 it enjoyed a near-meteoric rise and saw its raison d’etre fulfilled, symbolised by the Brexit vote on June 23rd.
What a fascinating comparison the SNP and UKIP provide. Having lost the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, the SNP has gone from strength to strength, dominating the Scottish contingent to Westminster as of May 2015 and maintaining power in the elections for the Scottish Parliament earlier this year. UKIP meanwhile, has crumbled. In events worthy of a prime-time comedy on Channel 4, they saw their leader resign after only days, the fan favourite hand in his ballot late, get punched in the face, and then abandon the party altogether. After all of this, the ubiquitous Nigel Farage, somehow, is still in charge. He almost reminds one of Plato’s reluctant leader. In The Republic, Plato said that in a city of truly good men, there would be as much competition to avoid holding the reins of power as to acquire them. Perhaps the same can be said for a city of truly awful men.
One has to wonder about Nigel Farage; ideologically he is firmly in the Conservative Eurosceptic camp – inspired by the likes of Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher – and was driven to abandon the party and establish UKIP over John Major’s pro-European government. How does Farage view his party then? As a simple piece of machinery necessary to achieve a single goal? This, at least, was the purpose behind its initial formation. His distaste for much of the party suggests a lack of genuine respect for his creation. But his continuing leadership suggests a sort of paternalistic instinct – not all parents like their children, but most still feel a duty of care.
The EU is to UKIP what eggs and butter in cakes are to vegans: they really hate it, but once you take it away everything crumbles and becomes rather distasteful. Yet while we should enjoy a collapse reminiscent of what happens when one opens the oven door too soon during baking (to take the baking analogy to its logical conclusion) it may not last. Political parties come about because they are able to identify a section of the population which has an ideology cohesive enough to formulate a movement to represent it. There is a huge section of the British, and especially English, electorate, to whom UKIP maintains an enormous appeal. Patriotic, socially conservative Labour voters – especially in the north of England – to whom the posh, North London champagne socialists of Corbyn’s Labour simply do not appeal are one category. Anybody, Tory or Labour, concerned with the shape of Brexit is another category.
UKIP is a rather nasty stain on recent British political history, even if some credit may be due for its success in moderating the far right. We should enjoy its current predicament, because it may not last long. There are too many voters to whom its ideological platform appeals for it to fade into irrelevance.