The piece in front of you was inspired in part by a great FT article by Kiran Stacey and Jim Pickard yesterday. It’s called “Ukip’s tilt to the left upsets traditionalists” and it details the tensions within UKIP as it tries to rid itself of the, as the article puts it, “More Tories than the Tories” image.
The whole, shall we say, softening of UKIP’s ultra-libertarian economic policy began in earnest last summer. It thus far has reached its surreal pinnacle in the leaflet put round by the party during the Heywood and Middleton by-election this past October, one which stated that UKIP were the only party who could be trusted to protect the NHS. The party came within a mere 617 votes of pulling off a shock victory in the constituency; clearly leading the party to conclude that going down this road would pay dividends in future.
I have always thought that UKIP’s libertarian economic stance was a noose around the party’s neck. I said so on Total Politics in April 2013, when I wrote an article entitled “Why economics is UKIP’s Achilles Heel”. Basically I argued then, and feel I’ve been more than vindicated on this since by events, that for a party so populist on almost everything, it was weird that they were still clinging to such right-wing economic policies, all of them bound to be unpopular with the voters they would most likely be able to attract. I was wrong about them not winning any by-elections, but hey, who saw Douglas Carswell coming (obviously from the Total Politics article, certainly not me).
The problem has always been this: how do you subtlety drift towards a more left-wing, populist economic position when you started out with stuff that would make Ayn Rand blush? The answer is, you can’t, not really. Now, you’re bound to say to me, “Yes, but all of these tensions are supposed to make the UKIP bubble burst and none of them have thus far. They will weather this storm.” Of course they will – for the time being. I don’t think this poses that great a problem for UKIP in May 2015. They will have much larger problems to contend with, such as the voting system that is probably going to crush them.
It’s after the election that the problems are likely to start. The purple people’s army is happy to look the other way for now, about the fact that UKIP seems to be advocating two opposite economic viewpoints simultaneously, as the energy level is high going forth towards May 7th. But when the general election comes and goes and the seats do not materialise as promised, I think that’s when it could all hit the fan. Do UKIP want to be a slightly less racist version of the BNP? Or do they want to be a right-wing alternative to the Conservative Party? They can’t try and be both forever. At some point, something’s got to give, and given the leading lights of the party, Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell, are both strongly in the latter camp while the votes are most definitely in the former, it will be interesting to see what next summer brings for UKIP.