I now think that UKIP will play no considerable role at the 2020 General Election (provided, of course, that there isn’t one sooner). My conclusion is partly informed by uninspiring quarrels between its senior figures and partly by the result of last year’s referendum, which now seems so far away I can scarcely believe how time has flown.
Notice that I use the word ‘uninspiring’. Of course, squabbles in political parties – despite the fact that they can open up debate – aren’t usually very helpful, but with UKIP, matters are made worse. The party was primarily a one-issue political force, acting as a battering ram and driving home an agenda that had been forgotten or deliberately ignored for far too long.
At present, UKIP lacks purpose and direction. Its primary goal has almost (barring a few late hiccups) been achieved and it must now attach itself to other issues worth pursuing. Indeed, Michael Heaver, Nigel Farage’s former spin doctor, thinks that proportional representation and House of Lords reform are two such issues that the party can use to maintain its foothold in British politics.
This is a false trail. These areas of policy are fringe issues not capable of rallying a significant portion of the electorate. UKIP’s divisions are therefore uninspiring because neither side is offering any credible path towards long-term relevance in the current political climate. Arron Banks, who funded UKIP at the last General Election, claims that Paul Nuttall is week, but the problem is in fact much deeper.
The party has reached its sell-by date, and as the party only ever truly planned for a referendum, it is unsurprising to me that it finds itself a little hollowed out and purposeless afterwards. This is itself causing internal doubt and frustration. Being the leader, Mr Nuttall will find himself in the crosshairs, but truth be told, even Nigel Farage would struggle to keep UKIP on the map.
I do not write this gleefully by any means. I have always been fair to UKIP and stood up for the party when under unjust attack. This is because I believe that its impact on British politics has been largely productive. Its success transcends electoral representative democracy and, perhaps ironically, was aided largely by its very inconvenience to the establishment parties and their pocketed media tycoons.
UKIP’s most profound influence on British politics was to apply serious pressure on the Conservative Party to be conservative; to stop supporting Britain’s ongoing membership of the European Union, to stop imposing on the country unprecedented levels of mass immigration, to strengthen and illuminate the national culture and character. These simple premises had long ago been abandoned by a party that knew that all it had to do was mirror Blairite values and – as the Labour Party was hollowed and left demoralised in the ensuing post-Blair years – it would guarantee electability for years to come.
The Conservative Party knew that it had become New Labour. How could anybody have missed the many glaring parallels between its leader, Mr Cameron, and his now infamous predecessor? The trouble was, so too did many of its members. Its most disgruntled supporters switched their allegiances and opted instead to seek refuge in a growing party that believed and said the things conservatives had been saying vainly for so long. It is no wonder that UKIP became a force in such a short period of time.
Nigel Farage shrewdly spotted a few years ago that if he could only (but correctly) associate mass immigration with EU membership, and raise awareness to a possible referendum, his and his party’s political legacy would be secure. Though what he still does not recognise, to his discredit, is how ineffective the Leave campaign would have been had UKIP been spearheading it during the country’s referendum period. Alas, it no longer matters. Our side won it, all that remains is for departure to be negotiated and executed.
But what of the future of UKIP? I would love for my prediction to fall flat. They have been a useful kick in the backside for the Tories down south and northern Labour who, shamefully, have resisted public opinion (even that of its own voter base) and insisted on fighting – rather than listening to, UKIP. In the run up to the triggering of Article 50, backsliding on Brexit was widely suspected. But come the inevitable collapse of UKIP, a party almost too combustible for its own good, more serious backsliding may be seen.
The Tories, knowing full well that much of conservatism is damage limitation, may not see a battle worth fighting, and we could well see them revert to their old, disingenuous ways, freed of the UKIP-led electoral pressure that so many took for granted.