So, another day, and another UKIP representative has said something highly offensive and absolutely barking mad. It must be a Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday.
This time, it’s Geoffrey Clark, their Kent County Council candidate, who suggested compulsory abortions for foetuses with Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida. Not that he was insisting we should, he said in response to the understandable howls of outrage. Just that it might be worth considering as a way of bringing down the national debt. A UKIP spokesman told the BBC that they didn’t agree with his views, but he’s still “a hard-working local activist who would make an excellent councillor.” Though they now seem to have changed their minds about that, because they’ve suspended him and say he won’t stand for them again.
A month or so it was going all so well for them. They were riding the tide of national scandal about a case in which Rotherham Council had removed three children from foster carers who were UKIP members. Never mind that the fuss seems to have died down very quickly, and it turned out to be almost certainly more complicated than that. They got to bask in a couple of weeks where politicians and pundits were falling over themselves to say that UKIP are a credible, mainstream party.
And then one of their candidates told the media that allowing gay people to adopt was “child abuse”, and it was right back to form. Not that it stopped them doing well in recent elections, resulting in more headlines proclaiming them “Britain’s new third party”.
As a left-of-centre progressive, how do I feel about their recent success? Absolutely great. Let me explain why.
When I say I feel good about it, I’m not suggesting in any way that I respect or admire UKIP. Quite the opposite. Back in 2010 I made the mistake of reading their general election manifesto. It felt like listening to a bunch of retired colonels having a drunken argument in the pub.
And then there’s their self-description as a “libertarian, non-racist party”. Quite apart from having a “not a racist but…” in that description, do they really believe they’re libertarian?
It’s not my philosophy of choice, but libertarians generally support open borders and gay marriage. And they certainly wouldn’t endorse compulsory abortions of disabled children. Ultimately, I suspect that UKIP has become riddled with the kind of politico who calls himself “a libertarian” because it doesn’t impress girls at parties when you tell them, “I’m very, very right-wing.”
So if UKIP isn’t having its ranks filled with staunch defenders of individual liberty, where are they getting their new support from? We don’t need to speculate, because today Lord Ashcroft published research giving us the answers. The straightforward answer is they’re getting it from disaffected Tories. The kind of people who are “pessimistic, even fearful, and they want someone and something to blame”, and have a certain set of preoccupations.
“But these are often part of a greater dissatisfaction with the way they see things going in Britain: schools, they say, can’t hold nativity plays or harvest festivals any more; you can’t fly a flag of St George any more; you can’t call Christmas Christmas any more; you won’t be promoted in the police force unless you’re from a minority; you can’t wear an England shirt on the bus; you won’t get social housing unless you’re an immigrant; you can’t speak up about these things because you’ll be called a racist; you can’t even smack your children.
“All of these examples, real and imagined, were mentioned in focus groups by UKIP voters and considerers to make the point that the mainstream political parties are so in thrall to the prevailing culture of political correctness that they have ceased to represent the silent majority.”
We all know people obsessed with this sort of thing (as Ashcroft said, these problems can be real or imagined. They’re mostly imagined.) But they only represent a certain subset of our culture. They’re also the kind of subset that can be relied upon to say something that will cause huge upset and outrage to the rest of us. Things like suggesting disabled children be aborted to help the national debt.
So, UKIP will carve themselves a nice little hard-right niche as the Even Nastier Party, but they’ll be repulsive to everyone outside that niche. As for the Tories, they’ll be left with a lose-lose situation. They can either stick with their current positions, and continue to haemorrhage their right-wing to UKIP. Or they can tack to the right, and concede the centre-ground to Labour. Either will be electoral disaster for the Tories, and a Labour landslide.
Personally, I intend to vote at the next election for the National Health Action Party, providing they stand in my constituency and there isn’t a significant risk of causing a Tory to sneak in the back door by doing so. Otherwise, it’ll be a clothes-peg on the nose and voting Labour.
So, for splitting the right-wing vote, my message to UKIP is this. Thank you and I salute your efforts, you revolting bunch of total oiks.