Henry Hill: Can UKIP become a truly national party?
Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist, and author of the blog Dilettante. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.
UKIP: A national party?
“The scale of the advance of Ukip has shocked both the two main parties. As expected, it seems to have taken votes primarily from disgruntled Conservatives, but it is also establishing itself in traditional Labour areas. As Tim Congdon has pointed out, if that trend should continue Mr Farage would be able to claim that his was the only truly national party with strong support across the whole of England.”
Above is Lord Tebbit, temporarily forgetting that Alex Salmond has yet to win the 2014 referendum campaign. I know that Anglonats read this column but individual opinions aside, UKIP is very explicitly the United Kingdom Independence Party. It contests Scottish and Welsh elections. It even managed to beat the Conservatives to an MLA in Northern Ireland.
The problem is that, despite its clearly British sentiments, UKIP doesn’t appear to have a game plan for outside England. It continues to poll poorly in elections to the devolved chambers. It at least beat the Liberal Democrats to an MEP in Wales, and former two-term Conservative MEP for North Wales and so-called “Celtic Iron Lady”, Beata Brookes, recently announced her defection. Yet despite being in the unique position of being able to focus their resources on a single council, the Welsh wing of UKIP didn’t even put up a fight for Isle of Anglesey council.
Its performance in Thursday’s local elections was impressive but they are the worst possible local elections for judging UKIP’s non-Conservative reach, consisting as they did almost exclusively of rural English councils. The real tests will come over the next couple of years.
First up are the council elections in 2014. In Manchester, where I studied, the Liberal Democrats look on course to be wiped out, leaving Labour the only party on the council. If UKIP really do have the ability to reach out to Labour voters, then getting elected in a city that last elected a centre-right councillor in 1992 will be a good litmus test.
Next are the European elections. Whether or not UKIP can increase their performance in Wales, more interesting still will be to see if they can scoop a Scottish MEP (if they do, whether they simply unseat the Tory). In Northern Ireland the third European seat is currently held by a Tory-allied Ulster Unionist. Yet that alliance is now over, with the UUP in the doldrums and the still-miniscule NI Conservatives failing to break through. If the Tories run a proper European campaign in the province, which it looks like they will, the UUP seat could be vulnerable.
In response, UKIP have touted their own Faustian pact with a Northern Irish party: the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice. TUV leader Jim Allister is a former DUP MEP and has worked with UKIP in the European Parliament. With UKIP’s resources behind him it might offer a decent challenge to the seat, although obviously the impact is limited if the branding is all TUV.
At the general election It seems fairly safe to predict that, if UKIP to manage to win any seats in 2015, they’ll be in England. Nonetheless it will be interesting to see whether they can build up a vote outside England, particularly if it starts to cost the Tories their very precious non-English seats.
Then there are the devolved elections. The Northern Irish Assembly is currently scheduled to go to the polls in 2015 (although it might get delayed by a year). UKIP have beaten the Tories to a defector and thus David McNarry will be defending his seat as a UKIP MLA. If he holds it, let alone if UKIP scrape a second one somehow, that’ll be very embarrassing for the local Conservatives.
Finally, there are the Welsh and Scottish elections in 2016. These elections have an element of PR, so the question is whether or not UKIP can win any seats on the regional lists (and who from). Unlike Wales, where some small progress has been made, UKIP is very much the outsider in Scotland – to the extent that the unionist campaign have declined to include the party in their official bid to maintain the UK. With their combination of Anglo-centric right-wing politics and plan to abolish MSPs (but keep the Scottish Parliament, with Scotland’s MPs sitting part-time), it is very hard to envisage them making a real breakthrough.However, UKIP themselves seem more confident and are taking steps to ensure that their Scottish members influence the party’s image and policy making, which is a positive start.
It is these elections, and not English rural councils, which will demonstrate whether or not UKIP is able to genuinely carry the centre-right standard into territories which have spent the best part of twenty years resisting the Conservatives.
The future’s bright, the future’s…
Your columnist is up in Northern Ireland this week, spending a week on placement in the archives of the Orange Order in Belfast. It’s very nice to be back in the city, which is one of my favourites, and enjoy a few days buying things with pounds and catching up on iPlayer. It’s an interesting experience.
I’m staying in West Belfast, with the Catholic chairman of Conservative Future Northern Ireland. The archive is on the other side of a city, in a loyalist community. My journey to work and back takes me past painted kerbstones, rival flags, murals, and all the iconography of the scary Belfast we see on the news.
Yet contrary to what you might expect if you only experience Northern Ireland through the mainland news, on the whole Belfast and most of Northern Ireland is lovely. If you steer clear of a few trouble spots the people are friendly, the scenery stunning, the grand Victorian buildings splendid and the modernist monstrosities hard to find.
It isn’t normally my intention to turn this column into an extension of a tourist office, but with its Soviet-style public sector economy, unsavoury politicians, armed militants and frightening history Northern Ireland often gets something of a bad rap, which I suspect contributes to the sizeable “what’s the point” attitude you can find in England. To my mind, nobody who has visited Northern Ireland recently can fail to see why it’d be our loss to see it go. I got my first impression of Belfast during the recent flag riots and managed to fall in love with it anyway.
By the by, can you guess which biscuit is the favourite at the Orange Order HQ? Club Orange, of course. Testament, I am sure, simply to their excellent taste in chocolate snacks.