Five ways to beat UKIP
UKIP are the UK’s third political party, owing (amongst other things) to the perfect storm of Lib Dem mistrust, the blatant Tory rejection of the working class vote (read Fact 4 on this post), the rising cost of living (something to blame foreigners for) and the meandering pace of Labour. There was a vacuum waiting to suck up a fourth way and UKIP was best placed to fill it.
So what of the Greens? For decades they were the fourth party and the accepted recipient of the protest vote. Uninspiring PR, sensible (read: boring) policies and their dissapointing performance in Brighton have meant they will remain the fringe party at the next election.
I don’t think it is that unfair that they are not proposed to be part of next years’ leadership debates. A political party has a duty to get its’ hands dirty and whilst Green Party activists were literally getting dirty hands in fields protesting about fracking, UKIP were lobbying, campaigning and effectively brown nosing disaffected MPs and funders. Put bluntly, the Greens have never had an MP defect to their ranks from Labour or the Lib Dems. Maybe they just play too nicely.
This is not only their fault. The media glare has been on UKIP since 2008 and Farage has courted publicity with his well planned sound-bites.
Therein lies the secret: well planned. Farage talks to his people clutching his real ale, the Greens are normally hanging tightly to their carrots. I am generalising but having worked in sustainability I can tell you the Green Party are in need of serious rebranding. I don’t even know what their logo looks like. There is something smug about the Green Party and when I think of them I think of Waitrose clientele. Well meaning, good living liberals. As a ‘high status’ party, you have to be careful when talking to your public as equals. Your audience will only feel equal if they identify as high status too.
And so enter stage left, Nigel Farage. He eats like his electorate, he drinks like them and most of all, he thinks like them. He grades migrants on a scale that has ‘desired’ on one end and ‘go back to where you came from’ on the other. As 2015 approaches, these messages are too tempting for the Great British public to resist. It is junk politics at its finest. How do we get the electorate to choose the politically healthier options?
How to beat UKIP
- Stop calling UKIP and its supporters barmy/racist/stupid etc.
The UKIP carnival before the last local elections is a great example of how this kind of pontificating will not work. I don’t think anyone in UKIP towers thought a carnival would be a good thing for anything except publicity. They don’t mind making themselves look stupid as long as they can make their detractors look condescending. Whilst the London cognoscenti keep taking the bait, they will keep adding the disenfranchised to their ranks.
- Commit the UK to a referendum on Europe
I learnt a lot about people from the Scottish referendum. You have to trust them. The Conservatives promised a referendum in 2010. It’s not fair on their supporters to say “sorry, we meant you need to vote for us twice before you get what we promised”. Many of these supporters are the ones that have gone to UKIP. UKIP can say what they like, they will definitely not be in power at the next election, so they can make grand promises they won’t be expected to deliver on. Conservatives have to push the referendum, and Labour, if they don’t want one, have to attack the Tories for not delivering, and attack UKIP for being irresponsible. At the moment, the debate is about the referendum, and not the facts of EU membership. Shift the debate and the UKIPs isolationist policies will become their vulnerability and not their strength. Which leads me to…
- Own the debate.
UKIP performed phenomenally well at the last local elections because the owned the immigration debate. The overwhelming response to Farage’s assertion that he ‘wouldn’t live next door to Romanians’ was complete condemnation from all political parties and the media. Rightful though the condemnation was, it was ultimately distracting. UKIP took control of the debate. Immigration isn’t about Romanians dumping dirty mattresses in their front gardens, but if you remember the coverage at the time, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. The immigration debate covers amongst other things discussions about labour markets, welfare, refuge, opportunity and hypocrisy (Farage’s wife is German). Allowing UKIP to narrow the debate through overblown reactive criticism that states the bleedin’ obvious feeds his machine.
- Spend less time talking about UKIP and more time talking about yourselves.
There is no point flinging mud at Farage because he is the ultimate “sticks and stones” person and UKIP supporters identify too much with the party. You slag him off too much and it will feel like you are attacking them too. Farage calls the major two parties pompous and the mud sticks because it is true. But calling his party ‘inadequate’ because they don’t have any actual policies doesn’t work because guess what, the average person doesn’t actually know what anyone else’s policies are. I am a Labour supporter and I really have no idea what they would do about education, housing or the NHS. They said something a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve forgotten.
The Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and any other political party what want a bit of power come 2015 has to get their heads out of their focus groups stop attacking UKIP for their racist half-baked policies and hit the public with some fully formed policies of their own.
- Get out of London
In May I drove to Hay-on-Wye, a sleepy town on the Welsh/English border full of bookshops. Pretty much the whole route there I passed villages, barns and even a sheep draped in UKIPs colours. Places where immigration is nothing but a glint in a border patrollers’ eye are buying into UKIPs messages. This tells me two things. Firstly, it is the fear of immigration, not the experience of it, which is attracting people to the right. Secondly, there’s more of them (people unaffected by immigration in the UK) than there is of us (people who live or work in diverse communities). This means there is more fear out there that is waiting to be exploited. Ignore this populace at your peril. Britain is still 85% white English. More regional focus wouldn’t hurt, instead of relying on blog posts in The Guardian and party conferences no one cares about anyway.
I have believed for a long time that party politics is dead in the UK. Labour and the Conservatives spent so long fighting over the same ground, they ignored a large fringe population who are now relishing the attention UKIP lavishes upon them. It’s about time our parties started to think about what they stand for, rather than what they don’t.