This coming Thursday will likely see one of the most significant electoral results in Britain’s modern political history: the triumph of the United Kingdom Independence Party in the European Parliament elections.
Nigel Farage’s fiercely anti-European Union party consistently tops polls of likely voters, and, what is more, it looks increasingly likely to make a splash at next year’s general election.
Despite this, I believe that any American enthusiasm for the rise of this new political force in Britain is deeply misguided.
While I am sure many readers will empathize with UKIP’s ostensible aim of giving “the Establishment” a bloody nose, it seems apparent that their message is a flawed one. UKIP is not the libertarian party it pretends to be, and its leaders and members are not worthy personalities for elected office.
Before UKIP rose to the level of national prominence it now enjoys, the party’s activist base was allowed to be a little more eclectic. As such, many libertarians, who were deeply disappointed by the combination of statist economics and social conservatism espoused by Labour and the Conservatives, saw UKIP as a potential political home.
In the early days they were lured with promises of flat taxes and rolling back the state. But these high ideals have come crashing to the ground the face of mainstream success. A coherent narrative had to be forged, and something in this party of “freethinkers” had to give.
In the face of a conservative electorate, UKIP rushed to simplify its message. Lower taxes and complicated economics went out of the window. A liberal approach to tobacco and some drugs was quietly quashed by the leadership. In its place came the simplification of popularity, manifesting itself as anti-immigration sentiment. Any party that so vigorously distrusts the free movement of labor cannot, to my mind at least, call itself libertarian without a fight.
UKIP proudly declares itself to be a “libertarian, non-racist” party, but there is a growing bank of evidence to rebut both of these claims. In any case, putting a denial of racism in a party description seems a little suspect.
UKIP also suffers from shambolic party organization, which has led to the recruitment of countless “Walter Mitty” counselors, as well as a few homophobes and racists. Examples abound of counselors and supporters making unsavory remarks about people of other races, genders, and sexual orientations. While this could be chalked up to an unsatisfactory vetting process for candidates, it is no surprise that commentators are starting to ask the fatal question, “Is UKIP racist?”
What’s more, there is a remarkable lack of free speech in the party. Friends of mine have been removed from positions of authority in UKIP’s youth wing, Young Independence, because their views conflicted with the orthodoxy of the top brass. Olly Neville, who was the chairman of YI until his sacking last year, was removed from office by the National Executive Committee for expressing his views on gay marriage. His friend and ally Gareth Shanks was later prevented from taking office as treasurer, despite the fact that he had run unopposed, for much the same reason.
Similarly, Richard Lowe, a prospective parliamentary candidate for Chester, was effectively dismissed by UKIP after professing support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. He was told that the party would not campaign on behalf of anyone holding his position.
His verdict: “It’s a shame that UKIP gave up on the promise of freedom and liberty for short-term electoral gain through scaremongering and playing to people’s fears.”
For his part, Shanks observes that UKIP has “spent so long in the European Parliament, [its leaders] are starting to copy their attitude to free speech.”
At times, one cannot escape the conclusion that the party is too busy purging decent people for sticking to their principles while failing to properly vet candidates who go on to embarrass it.
Scaremongering and scapegoating are frequent complaints from those who leave UKIP. For many, the ramping-up of anti-immigrant rhetoric is the final straw compelling them to leave what they had hoped was a classically liberal party.
Last week, Sanya Jeet-Thandi, a twenty-one-year-old British-born Indian considered a rising star of the party, decided she too had had enough. Her departure was not unannounced. She penned an op-ed in the Guardian in which she accused the party of “playing the race card” to win votes.
For many, there might be one scintilla of hope left in UKIP: the leadership of Nigel Farage. He seems to be a pleasant and amiable “man of the people.” However, this is not the whole story.
Farage hides a past involvement with the nationalistic British National Party, as well as his own privileged background at one of Britain’s most exclusive schools.
Farage did not go to Eton—alma mater of Prime Minister David Cameron—but he did attend Dulwich College, another “public school” of similar standing. After his elite education, the future UKIP leader went on to work as a futures trader in the City of London—something the “banker bashing” electorate may not look upon very kindly.
Farage is not so much an enemy of the elite as a product of the elite hoping to give his beneficiaries a good kicking. And unfortunately his party is too unserious to merit electoral consideration.