UKIP: A Positive Perspective
UKIP has its first MP and looks set to get more. This is good news for our democracy for a number of reasons. I’ve set out my top five:
1. UKIP is consistently polling around 20% and won the largest share of the vote in the most recent national election (the Euros). A party with that level of support should have some say in our formal national politics. It will also make them one of the ‘Westminster Parties’ so a welcome change in rhetoric should be forthcoming.
2. UKIP is attracting many people who have not been engaged in politics before and/or have not voted before. Bringing more people into the national conversation about our future is an unequivocally good thing. I may not agree with what they are saying, but that makes for a more engaging debate and a healthier democracy. The dangers lie for those who are not comfortable engaging in the debate directly.
3. UKIP will shake up the mainstream. Both Labour and the Conservatives lost touch with their ‘core vote’ a long time ago. Neither the policies, nor the personalities were designed to suit, in Labour’s case, a white working class vote becoming detached from mainstream society or, in the Tories’ case, the Eurosceptic social conservatives alienated by modernity. These groups now have a party to take their strangely similar agenda on Europe and immigration forward. Either Labour and the Conservatives move their policies to reengage, or admit that they can not deliver for these demographics and suffer the electoral consequences. Both will claim they have done the former. In doing so they risk splitting from centre-leaning voters and ‘core voters’ may still take UKIP in any case.
4. UKIP is reminding the other parties that politics can be as much about people as policies. Even those that find his views uncomfortable would accept that Farage has been by far the most successful leader in British politics over the past twelve months (particularly since Salmond’s train hit the buffers), repeatedly exceeding expectations and confounding critics. Carswell’s win in Clacton was credited to his personality and record as a local MP as much as the colour of his rosette. These two are by no means anti-establishment characters, but they are plausible and persuasive personalities and that’s enough to win votes. Watching Patrick O’Flynn sneering on Question Time last week made me wonder if a few charmless mugs might yet hinder UKIP’s rise.
5. Long-term, a strong UKIP performance with pressure from Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid and Greens will eventually kill first past the post. It is one thing for one party to poll 23% and get 8% of MPs, but for three or four parties to be locked out of the national parliament by geographical spread of votes is surely not sustainable. We need a parliament that represents our views as a nation – that requires a proportional system of some sort. Perhaps AV was the wrong system poorly explained, but if UKIP perform as well as expected in 2015 the case for electoral reform will never be stronger. If they help bring about that reform, it will be, perhaps, UKIP’s most valuable gift to our democracy.
History tells us that nationalism can be a positive part of the democratic mix when it’s an insurgent force; it’s when it takes power that you need to worry.
Those that disagree with UKIP’s simplistic politics of blame and isolationist agenda on Europe need to vote to ensure that nationalism stays a long way from the UK government. At the same time let’s recognise the positive impacts of UKIP’s arrival on the main stage for our democracy.