“If you are a Conservative MP sitting on a small majority against the Labour party, and the further north of London you go the bigger problem this becomes, you know you’ve lost next year. The Conservative party is literally dying in the urban north, the way it has in Scotland. It is for you to do the guessing game. Matthew Goodwin has already published a list of the Tory MPs who have no chance of winning on a blue rosette but might have a chance on a purple rosette. So let’s see what happens.” – Nigel Farage, November 21, 2014
Look again at that quote and see if you can spot the big problem with it. The core UKIP narrative is that they stand outside of the Westminster bubble; they stand for the people, while Tory, Labour and Lib Dem MPs are just worried about keeping their jobs. Then Farage goes and tells the press that the reason that Tory MPs should defect to UKIP is…..because otherwise they might lose their jobs as Members of Parliament.
While the two MPs switching from the Conservative Party to UKIP has been a huge win for Farage, he’s allowed it all to go to his head and thus screw with his overall message. He’s so completely focused on getting already sitting MPs to leave their respective parties and join his, he doesn’t seem to realise that when your whole party is stocked mostly with turncoats from establishment parties, people might then begin to question your anti-establishment credentials. Particularly when they were shaky to begin with, and even more so if you then shout to the media that the main reason they are coming to UKIP is because they are scared for their paycheques. In other words, your new recruits are simply acting like all of the MPs you demonise (and in fact ARE the MPs you demonise), only now they are wearing a purple rosette.
It opens up the other large fault line in UKIP’s brand: are they a catchall, anti-Westminster, anti-immigration movement? Or are they, as Peter Oborne once memorably put it, “the Conservative Party in exile”? The point being, picking off Tory backbench MPs one by one and having them join UKIP is great if UKIP want to be the latter. But it’s problematic if they want to be the former. And as we’ve already seen in action, the anti-Westminster, anti-immigrant movement is the one where the votes are, ultimately.
The UKIP brand is also based on supposed authenticity, so one also wonders how long a group of economically hard-right, small state conservatives can continue to sing the praises of an NHS they have previously wished ill towards with straight faces on. Or what happens to the party if those Eurosceptic Labour MPs do indeed defect to UKIP between now and the general election. Most of them are extremely left wing economically, so imagining a conversation geared towards common policy ground between any of them and the libertarian Douglas Carswell is comedic to attempt to envisage.