Rupert Matthews: UKIP is out of its depth as a political party and its MEPs fail to represent the British people
Rupert Matthews is one of the MEP candidates for the Conservative Party in the East Midlands Region and a freelance historian who has had over 150 books published. This is the final in a series of articles in the run-up to June's European elections examining the European policies of the Conservative Party's political opponents. He has already considered the European policies of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) was founded in the aftermath of the Maastricht Treaty debacle. The main policy of UKIP toward the EU remains that Britain should withdraw as soon as possible. Until such time as UKIP forms the British Government, they will not be able to put this main policy into operation. In the meantime, UKIP needs to get on with the task of representing the people - and it must be said that it has not done a very good job of this.
In December 2008 the EU Parliament was debating a move to cut the administrative burdens on small businesses – UKIP MEPs abstained. Three months earlier the EU Parliament was looking at regulations that would have ‘named and shamed’ countries that did not open up their markets to British firms – UKIP voted against. In October, UKIP MEPs voted against a resolution calling for a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of the World Trade talks. This is not some recent aberration. In September 2005, UKIP votes were crucial in seeing the EU Parliament pass a bizarre health and safety rule make employers responsible for monitoring workers’ exposure to sunlight [the infamous ‘builder’s bum’ regulation, aka the ‘barmaid’s blouse’ regulation].
Even on a policy that is supposedly dear to UKIP’s heart they can get it wrong. The plight of British fishermen has long been a key plank of UKIP leaflets and campaigning. Yet in February 2006 they voted to grind British fishermen down even further. Spanish and French MEPs launched an attempt to scrap the protected status of the Shetland Box (a key marine conservative area open to British vessels under strict rules), which would have had the effect of letting the vast Spanish fishing fleet to hoover up the area.
And their MEPs are not entirely free of scandal. I’m sure we all recall the Robert Kilroy-Silk saga. He was elected as a UKIP MEP, launched a bid to become UKIP leader and then stormed out when that failed. In passing he said the party was "a joke… a charade run by a self serving cabal”, though that was after he left. Tom Wise MEP was reported in the Telegraph to have paid a researcher £6,000, but to have claimed £36,000 expenses for the researcher from the EU Parliament. And let us not forget Ashley Mote MEP, expelled from UKIP just before being jailed for benefit fraud.
And let us also not forget the in-fighting for which UKIP has become famous in recent years. In 2007 former UKIP leadership contender David Noakes said “members have been betrayed: used for donations and as cannon fodder to get our leaders elected to huge EU incomes, only to find their efforts wasted by a leadership that we had thought was just incompetent.”
In 2008 Robin Page – a farmer and TV presenter – was prevented from standing as a UKIP MEP candidate. He fumed: “There is so much sleaze in UKIP at the moment. I think the hierarchy wanted to prevent me from standing in case I won a place at Brussels and saw how some of them behave. It is a disgrace; the whole thing has been run like a Zimbabwean election.”
It is no wonder that UKIP’s election results have been sliding recently. In April 2007 UKIP leader Nigel Farage announced that he was confident of a significant increase in vote share and of winning at least 15 seats. They won only 5. At the London mayoral elections, UKIP got less than 1% of first preference votes, deown from 6% in 2004.
It is difficult to come up with a fair analysis of the UKIP policy on the EU. Other than their key pledge of withdrawal, the policies appear to be a hotch-potch collection of ideas that seem good at the time. Even then, their MEPs vote all over the place when they get the Brussels.
I am writing as a Conservative MEP candidate myself, of course, but even, so I think the fairest conclusion would be to see UKIP as an organisation that might do well as a pressure group but is out of its depth as a political party.