I was first drawn to UKIP around six years ago when they out-polled Labour to finish second in the 2009 European Elections. Early in my teens and perhaps slightly naive, I soon found myself parroting out party lines as the forthcoming general election approached – the actions no doubt of someone who enjoyed attention and had an unhealthy fetish for statistics.
A quick vacation to YouTube bore fruits of a Nigel Farage who refused to be barrage in the European Parliament. The now infamous “damp rag” defamation of Herman van Rompuy travelled between my friends who would listen in a way I imagine a porno mag would have 20 years earlier. They do say public schools are different.
As across the country, something of a Farage cult was growing amongst those who were aware of a third Brown, Gordon, instead of just Wes and Chris. In truth, it was in retrospect a chance to look half intelligent rather than a genuine concern of the damages of our European Union membership – damages I still firmly believe in.
Anyway, election day came and the school’s intentions to do something worthwhile for those not of voting age were perhaps well meant, but in my mind an insult to democracy. The mock vote had boxes for CON, LAB, and LIB but not one for UKIP – it wasn’t a font issue I assure you. Intent on sabotage, I scrawled down UKIP on the ballot along with the customary phallus, keen to either make a point or be a git, probably both. Unfortunately the actual happenings on polling day saw UKIP make the news, but for Farage’s horrific plane crash, not the arrival of any Westminster seats – in fact they polled a mere 3 per cent nationally.
Rose-tinted (I flipped a coin to decide whether to use ‘tinted’ or ‘coloured’, it’s easier when not live, John – plus, you can’t say ‘coloured’ nowadays) glasses now off, as I became more politically aware, a further hatred for the EU grew. Desperate to distance myself from socialism and the unfashionable Tory tag I became a libertarian, an apt choice since UKIP was my chosen lodge – or so I thought it was at the time.
Introductions to the bloomingly brilliant Godfrey Bloom and the States’ legendary Ron Paul, the concepts of personal liberty, low taxation and a non-intrusive government established themselves as the cornerstones of my politics. A preference of science over the arts is definitely the root of why calculations rules emotion in my mind.
Around this time, much to my delight, UKIP were beginning to gain traction in the opinion polls. Farage now had opportunities to broadcast his views to a national audience (the party was, to the credit of Russia Today, given fair airtime on their high-quality news network years before) and not just to those who had sought him out on the internet. It was enjoyable to see previously beige debates lit up as real issues were finally tackled.
Yet, sadly, it has been UKIP’s growth which has led to my increasing contempt for them. For the arguments of leaving the EU – my main bugbear – immigration has never been high on my list. Corruption, financial wastage, a declining trade bloc, anti-democracy, all are more potent worries. The free movement of people was the most libertarian thing the EU ever did, a bloated welfare state and lazy Brits are the causes of our whining – not immigrants. The claim that British people “won’t do certain jobs because they believe they are beneath them” is garbage, they won’t do those jobs because they believe work is beneath them. And indeed, why work for the finer things when you can enjoy them for free on the dole? Not to mention, a welfare state reserved for the truly needy would prevent any who we perceive to be coming here to exploit us from gaining anything – other than air miles that is.
I digress. My point is, that before immigration became a stickler for the public, Farage rarely mentioned it as a reason for an EU exit. His speeches from the EU Parliament indicate he is more than intellectual enough to debate on economic and democratic grounds. Moreover, he has admitted himself that he is reluctant to place immigration caps, I doubt he truly believes in his own rhetoric. But UKIP have become addicted to populism, and in their view, if the folks on the doorstep want something, why not just give it ’em? The National Health Service is another, the party “more Tory than the Tories” have pledged more cash to it than any of the others this election. Privatisation? Give over. A party so devoted to vote-grabbing would never consider such political suicide in a nation of devout socialists. Although, free market healthcare is exactly what libertarians should endorse. If it’s good enough for the Swiss, it’s good enough for me.
Ever since UKIP began poaching Old Labour voters, a shift towards meaningless centre-ground, or arguably leftist territory has ensued. It is no question that the lowest earners have suffered the most from an influx of unskilled migration, hence they flirt with going purple (it also adds fuel to the fire that immigration fears are as much a product of the Left than they are the Right). The promise of state-involvement and taxes on the pesky rich – the new economic spokesman Patrick O’Flynn even floated a ‘Luxury Goods tax’ at last year’s party conference – is for many a deal-maker. Those left in the cold? The libertarians: the ones who grafted to aid UKIP’s accession to a mainstream party.
The acquisition of former Conservative MP Douglas Carswell was a positive – a Gladstonian who will not be deterred by the party line, and someone who will continue to preach for the free market – but the outlook is bleak. Godfrey Bloom’s voice was lost following a bust-up at the 2013 Kipper conference, and many I have come across are switching to the non-voting column.
My cross will go in the UKIP box this time around, for they are the only ones I trust to bring forth our removal from the EU, but it is not beyond the realms a referendum could be lost because of them. Immigration polarises. Concentration on how the Commission are unelected, how we are unable to forge our own trade deals with India, Brazil and China – the new economic powerhouses – and education that we do not need political union to obtain the so-called “benefits of the EU” would not. The position of a brighter future outside is much more marketable than screaming of the perils we face if we stay in. It would also beat the scaremongering claims that without EU membership, we would be poorer, more isolated and subject to higher unemployment. All of which is nonsense. They sell us more than we sell them, hence they need us more than we need them, particularly when taking into account the Eurozone’s malaise. There will always be fervent European integrationists, but to win referenda, the undecided must be wooed. There is nothing to be gained from pursuing an ex who was lost long ago.
I hold out hope that UKIP will return to their roots and that the British public will once more be offered liberty and freedom in politics’ shop window, and that they will eventually be drawn to it, but that hope is waning – the party is attracting a proportion with negativity, but alienating more because of it. I doubt as to whether Paul Simon was thinking of the state of British politics in 50 years when he penned ‘The Sound of Silence’, but if he was, the lyrics “Hello darkness, my old friend” were chosen perfectly.