What do UKIP really stand for?

Nigel Farage.
Libertarian? Eurosceptic? Populist? (Photo credit: Wikipedia) CC Attribution 2.0 license

As far as I can tell, if the comments after Daily Telegraph blog posts are anything to go by, UKIP will win the next election. Whether it’s about Labour, the Lib Dems or the Tories, the response of readers seems to be: the three main parties are the same; and it is time to give UKIP a chance. I’ve written before that I don’t think UKIP poses a massive threat to the government (and in last week’s election they finished with nine councillors, an increase of, er, zero, and four times fewer than the number of Green Party councillors). However, the party is on the rise, and this will surely come with extra scrutiny. It has been suggested UKIP are turning libertarian. Others think it is simply a single-issue party.

In fact neither is true. The easiest myth to debunk is the latter. Europe is a common theme in what UKIP say, but they do have unrelated policies on issues like grammar schools (they are in support) and HS2 (which they oppose, conveniently as it goes through Tory heartlands in the South). Furthermore, it is possible to oppose the EU from a left-wing viewpoint. 19 Labour MPs rebelled to support an EU referendum. UKIP isn’t the source of all euroscepticism and eurosceptism isn’t the source of all things UKIP.

UKIP is not libertarian either. Here is what  policies in this UKIP Pocket Policy are:

  • Promote one culture for all
  • Keep British companies under British control
  • Rescue the Royal Mail and Post Offices
  • Ban face covering, in public buildings
  • Introduce an English Parliament and St George’s Day Holiday

It is not clear what any of these have to do with market liberalism or government getting out of people’s lives: they all involve state control of what we think or wear; or state intervention in the market. On immigration, UKIP’s tough line is also restrictive (they would freeze permanent immigration for five years). A free market presumably involves companies being able to hire people from all around the world, and rejects a British jobs for British workers attitude.

What UKIP proposes is not a single-issue, nor libertarianism. It is mostly right-wing populism. They propose to cut public spending  without harming front line support (at the same time as developing youth services, improving care for the elderly, investing in high-quality state education and improving public transport).  The money saved for these spending commitments will come from, basically, scrapping ‘unnecessary’ government departments and quangos, unnecessary council jobs, non-essential and PC services; limiting high-paid council jobs; selling surplus council land; restricting advertising and self-promotion budgets; cutting councillors’ pay, allowances and expenses; controlling immigration; and, of course, leaving the EU (and dropping an EU Landfill directive). Essentially, clamping  down on bureaucrats, council waste, political correctness and Europe would save enough money. It sounds so easy…

This leads on to another paradox of UKIP policy. They support an EU referendum, yet “UKIP candidates are, unsurprisingly, united in support of the party’s central objective: 99% agreed/strongly agreed that Britain should ‘withdraw from the EU’”. What would happen if, in a referendum, the public didn’t vote to leave the EU?

UKIP tap into fears about British ‘culture’ being diluted: this explains why they believe in civic nationalism; would make St. George’s Day a bank holiday and support bizarre measures like making the media, businesses, schools and colleges use imperial measurements alongside metric ones. Its supporters are disproportionately old: according to this YouGov poll 17% of those over 60 intend to vote for UKIP. In every other age group the figure is less than half of this.

This populism is why UKIP seems to resemble the opinions of the right-wing tabloids – on Europe, bureaucrats, immigration, human rights et al – but it also means UKIP will struggle to remain credible as they achieve more prominence.

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