Nigel Farage will be kicking himself today. Had he stood in Eastleigh, rather than ducking the challenge, there is a strong chance that UKIP would have overturned the 1,771 Lib Dem majority and elected their first ever MP. That opportunity was missed but the result is further evidence that UKIP are truly a force in national politics and favourites to win the next European elections in 2014. While the Tories are the most obvious victim of the UKIP surge, it’s clear that their popularity will also dent Labour’s attempts to attract disaffected ex-coalition voters in the south of England. The prospects for an overall majority for either side in the next Parliament are diminishing by the day.
What is remarkable about UKIP’s rise to prominence is that few people are aware of what they actually stand for beyond their core policies of exit from the EU and clamping down on immigration. This comes partly from a lack of media scrutiny. How often do you see Farage, Paul Nuttall or other UKIPers interviewed about their policies on crime, taxation or other national issues? At the moment, the narrative is that UKIP are the new kids on the block, anti-establishment, difficult for the Tories and thorns in the side of the European elite. Their other policies aren’t important.
However, as UKIP becomes a serious national party, they must be scrutinised equally seriously. A quick glance through UKIP’s website reveals a deeply right-wing agenda that goes heavy on traditional Tory policies. For example, they favour the re-introduction of grammar schools and oppose efforts to combat climate change. In the middle of Britain’s worst financial, social and budgetary crisis for decades, UKIP advocate a flat tax of 31%, giving Britain’s wealthiest a 14% tax cut and costing the Treasury billions.
UKIP aren’t afraid to spend money either. Indeed, they want to increase defence spending by 40% which would mean finding an additional £18 billion to fill the coffers (based on £45.8 billion spending for 2012). And it doesn’t stop there – UKIP aren’t only tough on immigration, they’re tough on crime. They want to extend prison sentences, abolish early release and, most ludicrously of all, double the prison population, again costing billions. And their only policy to pay for all this – leave the EU and use the £8-9 billion we pay towards its budget. Sadly, this would barely cover half of their proposed defence spending, let alone the rest.
UKIP are also a party of serious contradictions. They claim to be a libertarian party but have made illiberal opposition to gay marriage one of the totems of their agenda. They argue that they are in favour of free trade and yet their MEPs are reacting to the horsemeat scandal by blaming EU free trade and promoting ‘buy local’ policies.
This contradictory nature is further borne out by their record in the European Parliament. They claim to oppose the EU’s common fisheries policy (CFP) which has led to dead fish being thrown back overboard and unsustainable fishing. However, when the European Parliament voted through far reaching reforms to ban both of these practices, Farage didn’t even turn up to vote and the rest of UKIP abstained. Farage (falsely) maintains that the UK is oppressed because ‘75% of our laws come from our friends in Brussels’ and yet 4 UKIP MEPs (including Farage) haven’t tabled any amendments to improve EU legislation on behalf of their constituents and only two out of eleven have amended more than ten reports in close to four years as MEPs!
So if anyone out there is looking for a not so libertarian party that is sort of free trade but not quite and, in the midst of a debt crisis, supports reducing tax on the wealthiest by 14%, spending 40% more on defence and doubling the number of people locked up, then UKIP is your party. The only catch is that they may not turn up to Parliament and table the amendments necessary to achieve any of this.