Plurality voting, poor succession planning and a failure to diversify its political agenda mean UKIP is cruising toward electoral annihilation on 8 June, says William Walter.
UKIP has had a profound impact on our country’s modern history. Had the party not helped foment division within the Conservative Party and given the electorate a credible Eurosceptic option, David Cameron would not have offered the opportunity for a referendum on Brexit, and Britain would remain firmly ensconced in the European Union.
Yet, despite this profound success, the party’s days as a significant influence within British politics are numbered. A failure to broaden the spread of its campaign issues, underpinned by the absence of a coherent ideological vision (beyond blanket Euroscepticism), has meant that its existence has always been inextricably bound to our membership of the European Union.
Some argue the party’s success was aided by this narrow policy focus. But, if that is the case, then it should come as little surprise that with our departure from the EU underway the party’s relevance in the eyes of the electorate is on the wane. Also, a coherent vision for the country in which its future is underpinned by British independence from the European Union need not be mutually exclusive.
A glance at previous UKIP election manifestos helps showcase the incoherent and amateurish visions the party held for the country post-Brexit. Some of the policy priorities presented in the party’s 2010 UKIP manifesto, for example, seem more in tune with the political aspirations of the Workers’ Party of Korea than a viable contender for power in twenty-first century Britain. It sets out how, under a UKIP led government, the number of foreign players in the starting line-up for teams competing in professional football leagues would be restricted; meanwhile, the party would help to “encourage a return to proper dress for major hotels, restaurants and theatres”, and that the Circle line would be returned once more to a circle. While these proposals may resonate with a hardened core of party members they hardly seem like the hard-hitting policy ideas needed for the national political stage.
When subsequently questioned about the 2010 manifesto, UKIP party leader Nigel Farage was forced to distance himself from the proposals. This culminated in a complete rejection of all policy positions contained within the 2010 election manifesto in the lead up to the 2014 European elections.
By contrast, the 2015 general election saw the party deliver a more convincing plan for government, including proposals for the abolition of inheritance tax, tougher immigration rules and additional funding for the NHS. This helped the party achieve a 9.5 per cent increase in the vote share compared to the 2010 election, delivering it a 12.6 per cent share of the total vote. It was only the First Past the Post voting system that prevented the party from translating this into a proportional share of the seats in the Commons.
Despite the merits of the party’s 2015 election pledges, a combination of new leadership and the calling of a snap general election post-EU referendum has seen the party once again reject most of the pledges from the previous general election, falling back instead upon a collection of niche proposals, including a ban on full-face veils in public and mandatory FGM checks on ‘at risk’ girls. Gone is much of the compelling, radical libertarian thinking from the 2015 manifesto, consumed instead by grubby, headline grabbing assaults on civil liberties. As one pundit put it: “the Eurosceptic party is reinventing itself as the anti-Islam party.”
This disorganised vision of what the party can offer voters is largely due to poor leadership, which itself is a symptom of the party’s failed succession planning. Unlike the Scottish Nationalists who under Alex Salmond’s leadership saw the careful nurturing of his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, over a period of years, UKIP was led by Nigel Farage, a self-obsessed, small minded leader incapable of sharing the limelight with anyone deemed a rival, whether it be Robert Kilroy-Silk or Douglas Carswell.
This character defect has led to the situation we see today: UKIP’s new leader fervently touring the radio and television studios desperately peddling his half-baked, irrelevant policy agenda.
UKIP, the party that has unequivocally played a fundamental role in leading the country on its journey to European independence is now bowing out. And with its departure will go the hopes of a new thinking party entering the political fray; one prepared to perpetuate a consistent, radical policy agenda that can hold significant influence over the poles of British politics.