Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What should UKIP stand for?

Now that the Brexit negotiations have started, it appears that some level of consensus on the subject is emerging between Britain's two major parties. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn appear to agree, for example, that we will leave the Single Market. Not all Members of Parliament have yet signed up to this plan, but it now seems that the continuity Remain campaign have nowhere near the numbers needed to stop this.

The main purpose of UKIP, since it was formed, has been to extract Britain from the EU. Even our critics are in agreement that UKIP has played a significant part in getting to where we are now. The question that arises is: what happens next?

If Parliament should suddenly go soft on Brexit, then UKIP will be back in business. As Nigel Farage puts it, UKIP is an insurance policy against government backsliding. Lets assume however that Brexit does happen and takes a 'clean' (or 'hard' if you must) form. Should UKIP hold a big party, announce that we have achieved our objectives and then disband the next day; or could it be, that we decide to pick some new fights?

The long running debate over the EU provides a very good illustration of the problem with a two party system. In Parliament there are around 100 true believers in Brexit and around 60 who are convinced Europhiles. The remaining 490 MPs will vote whichever way the party whips tell them to. Because the leaders of the two main parties agreed on the topic debate effectively ceased. David Cameron famously described UKIP as "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists". After all if 85% of Parliament (possibly more at the time) agreed that membership of the EU was best for the UK, to take a contrary position marked you out as a bigot, deranged, or at best, hopelessly eccentric.

So lets phrase the question in a different way. Are there any other issues where Parliament is disconnected from public opinion? Where the two main parties have agreed not to debate the issues? Where dissenters are characterised as unhinged bigots?

The left has never fully recovered from the economic policy handbagging they received at the hands of Margaret Thatcher but they have compensated by scoring victory after victory on their agenda of social liberalism. I say 'the left' but the Conservative party has notably failed to live up to its name and provide a defence of social conservatism. In fact they often appear to be competing for the PC vote. Why would they have stopped at Civil Partnership when they could score points with Gay Marriage. Why be content with giving rights to LGBT people when you could abolish gender as a matter of objective fact. I mention these two particular issues because in both cases the Conservative party did not bother to put these policies in a manifesto. A small group of politicians have been making policy without reference to the wider world.

To examine the detail of these issues would require a much longer essay than I have time for today. My point is that UKIP has thrived and won the argument on the EU by representing the broad view of the people against the views of the political elite. To survive UKIP must find new areas where a similar disconnect exists. Social issues are one such area.

I was encouraged that during the election campaign Paul Nuttall was able to explain his views on abortion in the most straightforward way when he said "it is not UKIP policy but personally I am opposed to abortion". Contrast this with Tim Farron tying himself in knots as he tried to pretend that his personal beliefs were of no consequence in politics, before finally deciding that the Liberal Party was too 'liberal' to be led by a Christian. The members of UKIP hold very diverse views on all sorts of topics, but independence of mind is what defines the party, there is no pressure to conform to the fashionable consensus.

Some people have suggested that the way ahead for UKIP is to define itself as an anti-Islamic party. While having concerns about some aspects of Islamic society is understandable, I think that this would be a mistake. Indeed the Muslims might well turn out to be allies in promoting a more socially conservative agenda. For allies will be needed; if you thought that Brexit was difficult then you have no idea how hard a struggle promoting social conservatism will be.

Ken McNair

PS: I should point out that these are very much my own views and not party policy. It would be interesting to know where others see the party going.

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