The London Economic, 21 May 2014.
The PR moguls will tell us that any publicity is good publicity, but in the case of UKIP, they’ll have to make an exception. It’s not just that image is really important for any party, but when the publicity is so relentlessly awful that every major news outlet condemns and mocks UKIP on a daily basis, it’s just not a campaign that screams ‘legitimacy’.
So many people ask why voters would opt for UKIP – mostly their strategy of ‘relatability’ and the removal of needless jargon. The problem with arguing that Farage is a threat is that the entirety of the British mainstream media prove he’s not. There isn’t a single UKIP interview or media appearance which isn’t punctuated by a note of deep scepticism or, at times, sarcasm. The R4 Today interview with a UKIP bod ended in the presenter questioning spurious claims of their manifesto. The reason why the BBC feels the need to wheel on a UKIP representative at every possible opportunity is because they provide an entertaining show – they get people riled and they can be a scapegoat for jokes and derision. Most newspaper reports on UKIP describe their rise as ‘worrying’ or have an underlying tone of incredulity at the facade of legitimacy they create.
The reason that we’re hearing so much about UKIP is because they’re good for a debate. Unlike the drab consensus ‘debate’ we get out of mainstream party leaders, Farage will nail his colours to the mast and fight. That doesn’t make him right, and it doesn’t mean people will believe him, but it’s more interesting to listen to then discrepancy over policy details. In an age of low-level squabbling, Farage is refreshingly ideologically different.
That’s not to say that he has a point. Whether or not he’s a racist is moot, but a recent ITV News poll suggests that 30 per cent of the population of Britain think he is. Given that UKIP was, in its inception, a faction of Toryism, it’s unlikely that Conservative voters will defect to Farage unless there is a significant chance of election victory, and all of the media narratives suggest that people shouldn’t be supporting them because they’re racist and politically inviable.
What you’ll sense is that I actually agree with the majority of what the UKIP-bashing columnists say. But the point is that UKIP-bashing seems to be the default position. UKIP opposition tell us that the NHS is a good thing and that we’ve come a long way since the war. The electorate know that. The only time Farage would be dangerous would be if (a) he had seats in Westminster or (b) a lot of people were taking him seriously. Whilst it’s easy to think that because he’s in the media, he must be being taken seriously, you only have to look at his almost daily decimation in the papers to know that’s not true. UKIP are the bogeyman of British politics; we think they’re hiding under the bed to snaffle us at the next election, but they’re probably as scary as what’s really there – a pair of socks and a skateboard.
The issue of UKIP is not a fight for Great Britain. The only likely shift to the right we’ll see is in Euroscepticism if there is a 2017 referendum, the existence of which will poach UKIP voters back to the Tories anyway. The biggest asset to Farage at the moment are the Liberals – who have the power to pull Cameron to the centre and alienate right-wing Tory voters. And when your biggest political assets are the proxy actions of Nick Clegg, and you have no seats in Parliament, you’re probably not that much of a threat.
For the time being, and at least whilst Godfrey Bloom is still on the circuit, Great Britain is safe.