Tuesday, February 21, 2006

UKIP gets good publicity

Even UKIP seems attractive to the MSM, as it begins to wake up to the probability of the BNP benefiting from the politicians’ inglorious behaviour in the War of the Danish Cartoons as well as the concerted and Gadarene-like rush to the middle ground.

Possibly, UKIP has only just woken up to the fact that they missed out on the events of the last few weeks, engrossed as they have been by the NEC elections and an inability to make up their minds on the crucial problems thrown up by those events.

Still, better late than never, and I suspect that we have the new chairman, David Campbell Bannerman, an offspring of a political dynasty and a former activist in the Conservative Party, to thank for this rush of relative sanity.

UKIP is following advice given to it some time ago and has effectively renamed itself as Independence Party, without changing the official moniker. The point that makes is not the rather silly one of not being just negative in the future but that there is a link between national and individual independence.

It also makes sense for UKIP to try to pick up the disaffected Tory vote, both middle class and working class. There are ever more people out there who do not feel that the party of the Boy-King and his courtiers speaks for them or to them.

After all, if one wants a statist, high-spending, over-regulating, Europhile party that pays no attention to foreign policy or defence and thinks Kyoto is the bee’s roller skates, well, there are plenty to choose from (three, to be precise). No reason to suppose, the Tory toff will win over the Labour toff or whoever will take over the Lib-Dims.

So it makes sense to go for that vote. David Campbell Bannerman and Nigel Farage must be patting themselves on the back as the positive reporting unrolls. They must be hugging themselves with delight when they read this sort of comment from Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley:

“I've every sympathy with their view on Europe, I'm just not sure what it is they're trying to achieve.

They'd be much better off remaining a pressure group.

Shouting from the sidelines with five per cent of the vote doesn't seem like a particularly constructive way of advocating their cause.”

Well, I don’t know how to begin explaining matters to Mr Davies but it seems to me that what UKIP is trying to achieve is quite simple: getting more votes that, in normal circumstances, would go to the Conservatives. They might reach 5 per cent but the aim must be to climb higher. Whether they succeed is another matter but Mr Davies is right to be worried.

Given Mr Davies’s own principled stand on the EU (he wants Britain to come out) and various other matters, it would obviously be unfair on him if his votes started trickling to UKIP.

Presumably, as he has stated his views on Britain’s independence publicly, UKIP will be sensible enough not to put up a candidate against him.

On the other hand, perhaps Mr Davies and one or two of the more intelligent Tory MPs will go to the caucus around the Boy-King (I understand he himself is not available to ordinary MPs even when he is not on paternity leave) and point out that, as Simon Heffer indignantly asserted in today’s Daily Telegraph, the core Conservative vote cannot be bought by being sound on hunting and Europe.

In any case, as the Boy-King has made no comments about Europe or, even, the European Union, except for that almost-forgotten promise about taking the Tory MEPs out of the EPP, this cannot be used as a means of holding on to the core voters.

So what are those UKIP policies in full?

They are moving into five areas: education, international trade, immigration, tax and the structure of government. Whether these are the particular issues people will be voting on is impossible to guess but they are probably the ones on which some kind of consensus was reached within the UKIP hierarchy.

In education the policies appear to be an idealized version of the 1944 Education Act, with considerably more choice for parents and schools than that piece of legislation gave. There is no mention as to who would actually be running schools and whether vouchers are a good idea – that would be a step too far, one suspects.

Apprenticeships are to be restored and, one presumes, technical schools come under the heading of parental and school choice.

Tertiary education proposals are something of a mess – abolition of fees and restoration of grants might be a little too expensive and would retain state control of universities. No mention of technical colleges or polytechnics and while they are promising to restore academic excellence there is no real explanation as to what should be done about the various recently introduced or upgraded so-called university courses. Or, for that matter, with the various recently upgraded so-called universities.

On international trade, UKIP will seek to restore the UK’s ability to negotiate trade agreements. As the primary goal remains exit from the European Union, restoration of international trading ability must follow automatically.

The other two points, alas, mean well but remain somewhat muddled:

“UKIP will work to achieve preferential trade agreements for Commonwealth and least developed countries

UKIP will seek ‘Trade alongside Aid’ with the Third World”

What on earth makes people think that the Commonwealth is in any way a going concern? Countries like Canada or Australia are unlikely to be interested in preferential trade agreements with Britain, having long ago developed their own, quite separate trade policies. And what are preferential trade agreements with least developed countries? Allow them to remain protectionist? Even the UKIP luminaries should realize that is a recipe for disaster.

The last point about trade alongside aid is meaningless. In fact, it is no better than the waffle the Boy-King has produced.

On immigration they come up with several ideas for controlling and directing immigration, that are, at least, worthy of discussion. Whether numerical equilibrium or zero net immigration is achievable or desirable remains moot.

The idea of a “Britishness” test is a joke. We have it now. It is stupid and meaningless. But then, UKIP is not tackling the biggest problem of all – the people who are already here and bear not affinity with this country or its culture. In fact, as we have written before several times, the problem goes even deeper: what is that culture, what is that Britishness that people must become part of. So far, there have been no acceptable definitions or, even, descriptions. (Please don’t tell me it’s about kindness and tolerance. One quick glance at the forum on this blog, never mind the UKIP forum, would disabuse anyone of that idea.)

On tax, UKIP talks the sort of sense one would like to hear from the Tories but is not going to. They espouse flat tax, which may not be everybody’s idea of the right answer. On the other hand, some of its aspects, simplification, higher threshold, no double taxing, should appeal to most people (except employees of the Treasury and tax accountants).

Finally, there are the ideas for changing the system of governance with emphasis of restoring England’s rights in the post-devolution country. This is clearly an idea that is being buried by the main parties but will have to reappear at some point. Why not now?

The other points – more local democracy, a part-elected, part-appointed House of Lords/Senate, strengthened House of Commons, country-wide Secretaries of State, all sound like a rag-bag of ideas put together by people who cannot really agree what it is they want to see but think there may have been a golden age in British politics.

We need to see details of all those proposals as well as of the one about “real” local democracy and, speaking for myself, I would like to see a little more courage and imagination. It is possible to move forward without looking backwards all the time.

All the same, however much one may carp, UKIP or the Independence Party has now set out its stall to attract the core Conservative voters (to be fair, most of them are not likely to be very bold or imaginative in their political ideas but might respond to those suggested to them).

How will the Tories respond? Will they simply ignore this, relying on their mantra: Tory core voters have nowhere to go? If so, they may be in for another rude shock.

Then again, will the UKIP leadership carry its membership? Judging from the comments on the UKIP forum, which I scan very cursorily, they live in a completely different world from the rest of us and even half-way sensible policies will be unpalatable. Possibly, the UKIP leadership does not care all that much about the denizens of that forum.

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