Hugo Rifkind

Ukip has turned itself into a confidence trick

16 October 2014

2:00 PM

16 October 2014

2:00 PM


I think I’ve cracked it. If you want to springboard your minor political party into the mainstream and take British politics by storm, then all you need to do is go on and on about helping the poor.

You don’t need to do much else. You certainly don’t need to modify your policies so that they actually help the poor. This would be overkill. Nor, frankly, do you even need to be 100 per cent up to speed on who the poor are. Feel free to conflate them with the elderly or the skilled working class or people who aren’t from London, or pretty much anybody, really. Steer clear only of easily identifiable actual minorities which your potential voters will know for certain they aren’t in. And don’t worry for a moment about any contradictions this broad approach might throw up. Heavens, no. Because the point here, remember, is not to actually help the poor. Screw that. No, the point is to discombobulate everybody else.

Chiefly discombobulated will be liberal, redistributive types, who were previously under the impression that it was they who were on the side of the poor, perhaps because they support policies designed to tangibly improve impoverished lives and stuff. This sort of objection is easily dealt with, though. ‘Aha!’ you must say to these people. ‘But you know nothing of the poor! Because you are out of touch!’

This will discombobulate them further. For they will not feel out of touch, these people, and certainly not compared with you. This will be on account of the way they probably live in cities, cheek by jowl with those less fortunate, and share streets, schools, hospitals, buses and lives with them on a daily basis. Whereas you, almost certainly, will be a former stockbroker from a pretty village in Kent, or a former fully paid-up member of the Westminster lobby pack, or a hedge-funder, or an insanely wealthy insurance broker who was piqued beyond reason to learn that William Hague didn’t have your name on the tip of his tongue.

Do not, however, worry about this either. Simply say ‘Aha!’ to these people once more. Then say, ‘But if you aren’t out of touch, you do-gooding liberal you, explain to me why voters in Clacton, and in Heywood and Middleton, and possibly even in Rochester, are so prepared to vote for the likes of us when we’re like the people they normally object to, but so, so much worse, and also have the stated aim of slashing every service on which they rely!’ Which is a bit of a mouthful, I’ll grant you, but it will work. They will look flummoxed, these do-gooding liberals, because they are. And you will be able to say, ‘Well, then.’

Right now, Ukip is in the middle of what must, surely, be the most cynical bit of repositioning in political history; transitioning from a party which attracted disaffected Tory voters to a party which aims to attract disaffected Labour ones. Remember, this is a party still dominated by ex-Tories who find the Tories not Tory enough. Can it really be more Labour than Labour, too?

This is the Ukip plan, and that it is nonsensical doesn’t stop it from being bloody clever. Only a few short years ago, this was to be the party of Farageland — a place of men in blazers and women you don’t ever see. Being only the anti-EU party wasn’t cutting it, so they became the anti-gay marriage party, too; the anti-environmental party; the party for the middle classes who had seen enough of this new-fangled Cameroonie nonsense and wanted it to stop. Out of their golf clubs and mock Tudor boozers they stepped, expecting to find the rest of Britain on their wavelength. But beyond the odd old duffer, the rest of Britain simply wasn’t.

Hence a new strategy. ‘Dash it,’ they thought to themselves. ‘There just aren’t enough old duffers! We need a bigger core vote!’ And so the anti-Europe party became the anti-immigration party and the anti-Westminster party, with a conscious aim of hoovering up the core votes that the other parties had fallen into the habit of so brazenly neglecting. Which it has done, and with a shaming ease.

The great irony is that Ukip will brazenly neglect them, too, in time. Indeed, it is effectively doing so already. The party will exploit this new core as a block vote for its existing agenda, just like the other parties did. And it will continue doing this for just as long as it is confident that they have nowhere else to go. Because, beyond the rhetoric, nothing else has changed.

Ukip has become a con trick, a card–shuffle, a sleight of hand. Yes, it shouts on and on about Britain’s moribund elites, and breaking their strangleholds on this and that. And yes, it often has a point. But look to the stockbrokers, the hedge-funders, the insurance brokers and the too-Tory-for-the-Tories Tories at the top. Really look at them. Look at them properly. And ask yourself: if this really was all about giving a new voice to the voiceless and finally putting ordinary people in charge… well. Don’t you think they’d run a bloody mile?

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