When the toxic dust finally settles after today’s volcanic EU referendum, the political landscape will have changed forever.
Working relationships, political allegiances, and lifelong friendships will be forged in the white hot heat of the referendum. Others will be damaged, and some will completely disintegrate.
Several senior politicians have staked their entire political futures on the referendum. For some, there will be no way back.
Much has been written about the battle for the future of the Conservative party, and about the immediate futures of David Cameron and his nemesis, Boris Johnson.
However, very little copy has been devoted to exploring the possible future prospects of UKIP and their long-time leader, Nigel Farage.
It’s important to look at the origins of UKIP, their historical mission, how they have become an electoral force, and why they are about to order a nightcap in the last chance saloon.
UKIP was formed in 1991 as the ‘Anti-Federalist League’ by the historian, Alan Sked, as a single-issue Eurosceptic party. Its entire twenty-four-year history has been geared towards today’s referendum. Sked was ousted from the party he formed, in 1997, by a group of right-wingers, led by Nigel Farage.
The bulk of UKIP’s electoral success has come in the European Parliament elections, since 1999. There are several reasons for this.
A general lack of interest in European politics from the electorate, low turn-outs, and the ‘protest vote’, has enabled UKIP to build to its current position as the biggest UK party in the European parliament.
Conversely, UKIP’s success in local and national elections has been modest. They currently have 488 councillors, seven Welsh assembly members, and just one MP. They have achieved many ‘second places’, and an overall percentage of the vote that would have seen the election of 20+ of their candidates, under a system of proportional representation.
Arguably UKIP’s biggest success has not been electoral. It has been their sustained pushing of the issue of membership of the European Union onto the political agenda, and keeping it there.
Unfortunately for UKIP, win or lose, the referendum is about to render them surplus to the electorate’s political requirements.
As much as they will vociferously tell you otherwise, UKIP are a single-issue party. In the big scheme of things their protestations are irrelevant, as public perceptions of them are what matters when it comes to their future electoral prospects.
Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the issue of ‘Europe’ will never be settled; due to a closely split vote, and the deeply held views of both camps.
However, the issue of ‘EU membership’ will be on the back-burner for the foreseeable future – maybe for decades. With this in mind, what will be the point of UKIP without their unique selling point?
UKIP will point to the success of the SNP as proof that a single-issue party can have success beyond solely focusing on their core reason for their existing.
The comparison does not stand up to scrutiny. The SNP are not a single issue party, nor are they perceived as being so in the way that UKIP are. Whether you agree with their politics the SNP have a proven track record in government. Furthermore, the Labour party in Scotland has completely collapsed and the SNP have gleefully filled the vacuum. No such circumstance exists for UKIP to exploit.
Added to this, you cannot help but compare the quality and ability of the people at the SNP top top-table to their ‘second rate’ UKIP counterparts.
Additionally, UKIP will no longer benefit from the ‘open door’ policy that the mainstream media has afforded them over the last few years. Virtually every political show you care to mention has had a disproportionate number of appearances by UKIP politicians. This has been particularly evident on the BBC.
Love him or loathe him, there is no denying that Nigel Farage has been central to UKIP’s electoral and propaganda accomplishments.
Farage has captured and used UKIP as a vehicle to transport his enormous ego and political ambitions.
Compare how his party now operates to this statement issued by UKIP in the early 1990’s –
“It is a non-sectarian, non-racist party with no prejudices against foreigners or lawful minorities of any kind. It does not recognise the legitimacy of the European parliament and will send representatives only to the British parliament in Westminster.”
The transformation, with Farage pulling the strings, is described perfectly by UKIP’s founder, Alan Sked, in an interview he gave to the Guardian, last year –
“They took out the bit about no prejudices against lawful minorities and, as soon as I disappeared, they all decided they wanted to go to the European parliament and take their expenses. The party I founded has become a Frankenstein’s monster. When I was leader, we wouldn’t send MEP’s to Europe because we didn’t want to legitimise it. My policy was that if we were forced to take the salaries, we would give them to the NHS – they wouldn’t be taken by the party or individuals. Now UKIP say they’re against welfare cheats coming from eastern Europe, but in fact they’re the welfare cheats. They do nothing in the European parliament and take the money. Farage has become a millionaire from expenses. If you elect a UKIP MEP, you’re just going to elect another incompetent charlatan that you’re going to turn into another millionaire. They go native in Brussels, take the expenses and the perks and do fuck all.”
Farage’s taking over of the party and its subsequent change in modus operandi was not an accident. If you were ever in any doubt about the route that Nigel Farage craved for UKIP, it is summed up in a conversation he had with Alan Sked in 1997. Sked recalled an incident in 1997 when Farage was arguing with him over the kind of candidate that UKIP should be selecting for a forthcoming election. Sked claims that –
“He wanted ex-National Front candidates to run and I said ‘I’m not sure about that,’ and he said ‘There’s no need to worry about the nigger vote. The nig-nogs will never vote for us’”
Farage has built a party in his own image and around his repugnant demagoguery; facilitating a ‘strong-man’ style leadership that has become bigger than the party itself.
He will have realised years ago that following a referendum, UKIP would be irrelevant if they couldn’t break into the mainstream, command several MP’s in the Commons, and most importantly, move beyond the perception of UKIP being a single-issue party of protest. By any of those three standards, Farage has failed.
Farage is charismatic. I must add the caveat that I mean charismatic in the true sense of the word, i.e., “compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.”
You may find Nigel Farage completely repugnant. As I do. However, like all demagogues, he appeals to many by tapping into their base instincts.
Despite being a privately educated former stockbroker, it has been amazing how he has cultivated this image of being an ‘anti-establishment man of the people’; mainly on the back of being rude, smoking cigarettes, and being pictured drinking pints of bitter.
I fully expect that Farage will step down before he is pushed. His volte-face over his resignation following the general election has left something akin to a stale fart lingering around the corridors of UKIP towers; and many senior figures within the party want him gone.
If he hangs around too long, UKIP will have its ‘Night of the Long Knives’ – with party members lining up to plunge sharpened blades through the back of Farage’s tweed blazer.
Rumours of Farage being offered a seat in the House of Lords and a place in a post Cameron Conservative party cabinet, would appear to be a non-starter for many reasons. Not least because he has been vociferous in his attacks on the Tories, and being parachuted into government without any electoral mandate is clearly at odds with his critique of democracy within the EU.
Sadly, for UKIP, the grub in their belly has grown has grown to be bigger than its fragile host. Once the grub is purged, a hollowed out lifeless shell, fit for nothing, will remain.
Who will be the next leader of UKIP? Well, there isn’t much of a choice. It is a conundrum on a par with – ‘What piece of rotten fruit should I choose?’
There is nobody in the party that has anything approaching the public profile or captivation of Nigel Farage. The pool of talent that the new leader will emerge from is so shallow that it would struggle to drown an inebriated mouse.
Aside from the barely capable Douglas Carswell, you are left with the likes of Paul Nuttall, Patrick O ’Flynn, Diane James, Suzanne Evans, Godfrey Bloom, Roger Helmer, Mark Reckless, and Neil Hamilton.
This disparate bunch have a collective gravitas that could be described as ‘Lilliputian’. Effectively, they are Sunday league coaches who have found themselves at a premier league team, and despite nobody quite knowing why, they have a chance of the top job.
Whoever the party chooses as its new leader will be taking the helm of a ship that is surely on its final voyage – towards the dustbin of history.
Their unique selling point – fortified by Nigel Farage – was the European Union. Once the UK has made a decision: UKIP will drift into a slow and terminal obscurity, as voters return to the Conservatives and Labour.