Nigel Farage's rigid leadership will eventually run its course
Yesterday it was reported that the BBC is being investigated after it showed a 10-year old boy saying he supported UKIP because they ‘get all the foreigners out’. Because of the backlash which now threatens the child, who was identifiable, Ofcom has suggested the broadcaster breached child welfare standards.
This is the first time there has been such explicit vilification of UKIP and its policies since the election. The result of 7 May meant that practically everyone focused on the ‘nasty party’ rhetoric of the Tories; and there hasn’t seemed much point in talking about UKIP since we realised the electoral system was an effective barrier to its gaining real power.
UKIP won 3.9 million votes but only one seat, an undemocratic result by anyone’s standard. In a way, this plays into UKIP’s hands; it has always positioned itself as the victim of an establishment which wants to silence its authentic voice. Nigel Farage has always maintained that his party is treated unfairly, and in this instance it has been.
But what will happen to UKIP now? There was some brief post-election farce with Nigel Farage’s un-resignation and Patrick O’ Flynn’s ugly outburst about the party leader, but on the whole UKIP has been quiet both on new Conservative policies and on analysing it’s own defeat. What’s more, the press seem to have forgotten about it.
So is UKIP about to slide off the scene?
In May 2010, BNP leader Nick Griffin suffered a humiliating defeat in his Barking constituency. A promised election breakthrough by the party never materialised and in 2014 Griffin lost his European seat too. The party unravelled fast; at this election it garnered just 1,667 votes, compared with 563,743 in 2010.
I don’t like UKIP/BNP comparisons in general. The BNP’s reach was never as wide as UKIP’s, and it is much more extreme; until 2010 it had a ‘whites only’ membership policy which was only overturned by a court order. I can see that many UKIP supporters are not racists but vote based on their feelings about the EU; I don’t think the same could be said of BNP supporters.
But the parties are alike in that they came in a surge, from obscurity to the front page, that they polarise people, and that ultimately they promised great things that they could not deliver. The refusal to let Farage go spoke volumes – without him UKIP is too shambling to carry on and the fate of the BNP must have been in everyone’s minds during the few days without him.
But Farage broke a promise – he had always said he would step down if he failed to win in Thanet South – and in doing so he will have lost credibility. A few days after the election, Kent police closed an allegation of electoral fraud in the constituency – UKIP supporters believed the election had been rigged to keep Farage out, but there was no evidence. All this points to the fact that Farage couldn’t quite believe he hadn’t won, and things have become a little hysterical since.
Deputy chairman Suzanne Evans stepped down after being accused of plotting to undermine Farage’s leadership; economic spokesman O’Flynn called Farage ‘snarling, thin skinned and aggressive’ and said his return made the party look like a ‘personalitAdd Mediay cult’.
O’Flynn was right in that it is difficult to see who could take Farage’s place. He has had consistently high approval ratings, topping a YouGov popularity poll in April. He has spent years reciting the spiel of ‘we’re not a racist party, we just have some bad eggs’, and has had ample opportunity to practice it. The party’s rejection of his resignation shows that they know no one else is up to this job, that getting the public to accept a new leader as an ordinary, honest bloke who genuinely doesn’t mean to attract so many racists will be a mammoth task.
Plus, criticism seems to bounce off Farage. This week Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP, accused him of ’employing ‘mean-spirited arguments’ during the election campaign, particularly in regard to comments about immigrants with HIV.
Carswell said that, as a party which ‘didn’t do as well as it wanted’, UKIP needed to ask some ‘awkward’ questions. Farage rejected this entirely, saying that:
“Though many in the Westminster bubble were outraged by my comments about the impact of Health Tourism, and appalled that I mentioned those with HIV as part of that problem, what was clear was that the general public did not share that outrage.”
UKIP is reliant on one man, and that man has zero capacity for self-reflection. The success of Carswell has led Farage to accuse him, essentially, of going over to the other side, of being consumed by the ‘Westminster bubble’ simply for assessing how the party could improve.
This does not bode well for UKIP’s longevity. Add to Farage’s ego the fact that Cameron could well manage to siphon off some of his less right-wing followers with Europe reforms, and it looks very likely support for UKIP will be dwindling by 2020.
This is why seats for UKIP are a price worth paying for electoral reform. A party so rigidly resistant to change will eventually start to look ‘mean-spirited’ even to its own supporters. Meanwhile the UK can say that it truly gave all parties a chance, and that the people in power really are there because the public want them.
Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.