Sunday, June 12

The Week-End Essay

This week is the first anniversary of the Euro elections at which UKIP achieved 16 per cent of the vote and saw 12 of its candidates elected to the European Parliament (EUP).

On Monday 14 June 2004 the day that the twelve elected (nine newly) MEPs popped Champaign on college green in the Westminster village, the future look politically very bright for the party. UKIP had arrived, or so it seamed, on the British political scene.

Twelve months and one general election later UKIP has vanished once again into the political shadows.

Much has been said and written as to why and how UKIP now has only 10 MEP's. What has not been discussed sufficiently, particularly within the party, is why political journalists see UKIP at best as a flash in the pan and at worst as right wing xenophobic isolationists.

The EUP elections of last year will go down in British Political History as the high water of the party, since the party appears not to be able to develop further and thus in the way of political organisations gone backwards backwards.

Last August the Hartlepool by-election was the big opportunity that UKIP failed to grasp and thus move forward.

Peter Mandleson's appointment as Britain's EU Commissioner forced a by-election at the supposedly safe Labour Seat on 30 September. The reason for the election was 'Europe', and UKIP had (and gave away) the opportunity to take ownership of the campaign, driving home how the EU effects all of us. To have fought the by-election on parochial issues would have been fall into the Labour Lib Dem trap. What did UKIP do but fall head first and enthusiastically into that trap. The alternative, to have fought the election with a nationally recognised high profile candidate the seat could have produced UKIP's first MP.

It was not to happen, UKIP blew it.

Egos, lack of vision, rivalry, confused thinking, lack of leadership, parochial dominance and a failure to grasp the unique chance resulted in a missed political opportunity. In retrospect the failure at Hartlepool was the downward turning point of the past twelve months.

Had Kilroy stood in Hartlepool, as many of us within the party were keen to see, I am convinced that he would have been elected providing UKIP with its first MP and a much needed voice in Westminster. UKIP would not have looked back from that point.

When I spoke to Kilroy by 'phone last summer whilst he was holidaying at his villa in Spain he was disappointed that the party leadership were not obviously keen to seize the Hartlepool by-election as the political opportunity that it clearly was. The preference for a local candidate fighting on mostly local (in my view pedestrian issues) won the support of the party's leadership and thus an opportunity to 'hit the big time' was permanently lost. The local party rational was that the other parties would be fielding local candidates and that UKIP should do the same. Voicing these points at the time made me very unpopular with the Hartlepool Chairman and I was isolated. The party Chaiperson clearly not willing to undersand the key issues entirely missed the bigger picture. My only regret is that I did not pursue the point more vigorously at the time.

The result of the election on the morning of 1 October was, amazingly, hailed as victory for UKIP by UKIP activists; having come third beating the Tory's into 4th place and lost ground from the euro result some three months previously. I commented at the party conference in October that we were treating the Hartlepool result, like the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940, as a victory. In reality it was a defeat being celebrated as a victory, it represented a failure to grasp an opportunity and a significant one at that.

Robert Kilroy Silk undeniably brought to the party vast publicity and consequently great awareness of the impact of the EU on the British people. His media skills and sex appeals was the injection the cause needed. However post Euro election the Killroy factor became a liability. His bid for the party leadership which drained so mush energy from the body of the organisation left the party in a week position in the vital run up period to the general election. Kilroy had been offered the position of campaign Director, which he rejected he wanted to be the leader; nothing less would do.

As is now clearly obvious from the lacklustre performance of the party he went on to found - Veritas - R KS 's huge Ego and choice of aids, such as Martin Cole, Tony Bennett and Judith Longman being a fatal fault line in the new party's structure.

By March this year Killroy's speeches were sounding like chewing gum that had lost its flavour. He was munching over and over again well exhausted mantras which reflected the obvious lack of an understanding of what is the EU. By the run up to the general election the TV personality was in need of a new scrip writer. He was beginning to sound too familiar. At a keynote speech at the Federation of Small Businesses annual conference in March out of the 500 who greeted the end of his speech only 15 of so people gave a somewhat low key standing ovation. But Kilroy was not the only out of EU personality that needed to add depth and detail to why the UK would be better of out of the EU, UKIP candidates were still not being provided with detailed arguments of how the party would effect withdrawal for the EU.

Politics is about ideas. UKIP has failed to develop ideas particularly on how the UK can (and will) leave the EU. The party's manifesto states simply that it would take a two year period to repatriate policy and laws, This is to grossly underestimate the size and complexity of reconnecting UK to self government in the complex world we now live in. The UKIP manifesto made two major blunders which cost it valuable credibility. The common Agricultural Policy, returning to the post 1973 system is simply not an option - to do so would be contra to the World Trade Organisation's rules and in any event the world has moved on since 1973. The independence dividend so beloved of some UKIP supporters was double spent in the manifesto and the sums if examined closely were not accurate.

UKIP activists were mostly unaware of the detail of the EU constitution. One candidate in the North East of England enthusiastically chirped on (on Radio Cleveland) about how Blair must not sign the EU constitution, seven months after he did so. The need for product training has never been accepted as a vital need by UKIP.

At the party conference Chris Williamson and I , successfully proposed that UKIP develop detailed policy papers on how the UK is to leave the EU. I was enthusiastic for each of the key areas, domestic business, international trade, banking, air traffic, employment, health, education and many other issues to be addressed by the party. The minutia of reconnecting our nation self determination needs to be considered and documented both into policy papers and then into election material. Ongoing training of UKIP's party activists is I stated vital, for without which UKIP will continue to only sing the mantra of leaving Europe and provide further ammunition to Blair's propagandists to fuel their Urban myths stories.

The political success of George Galloway and his 'Respect party' (despite how much one may disagree with both) is evidence that a minority political party can make publicity fuelled headway despite the system.

Opinions vary as to why UKIP prospered in the summer of 2004 and why the party as retreated in the eye of the electorate. I believe that there are two fundamental reasons for the failure of UKIP.

One, the inherent political system in the UK, it simply does not allow for a fourth party. The second reason is the party has not matured. There is a clear political vacuum caused by the slow death of the Tory party as a major political force, many in UKIP recognise this, however, the party appears to not have the intellectual acumen to correct its drift into shallow waters.

The great achievement of the party at the general election was in effect to increas the Labour Party's majority by some twenty seats. This point has not been fully appreciated by the political press corps. Had UKIP not fought the last election the Tory party would had gained some 15 more seats and the Lib Dems 5. Additionally the Tory party would have its ranks reinforced, with activists many but no all, from UKIP, which by all accounts it needs.

Thus the achievement of UKIP on the last general election was greater than it has been given credit for, but it is not the achievement that it set out to achieve nor perhaps the one that is in the interests of the 'outers', a point that is I believe missed by all but keen europhiles.

If UKIP will develop depth, establish clear political policy and train its activists then there it would have hope.

Unless that is our political masters -The EU Council - insist the EU constitution ratification process must continue. Twelve months on from the height of its achievements in the European Elections the future looks dull for UKIP.


Mark said...

If UKIP will develop depth, establish clear political policy and train its activists then there it would have hope.

Quite. Yet none of this is happening and nor is there the slightest sign that this is about to happen. Instead we are busy pouring money down the drain fighting elections we haven't a hope of winning or making the slightest impact upon.

Serf said...

...Had UKIP not fought the last election the Tory party would had gained some 15 more seats and the Lib Dems 5.....

As Tory, but one with a lot of sympathy with UKIP, I can forgive the Labour Seats, but the Lib Dem ones are very unfortunate. Why did UKIP fight seats where the Tory candidate was Eurosceptic and the main competitor the Liberal Democrats?

These peopleare Eurofanatics of the worst kind.

From UKIP point of view, gaining Conservative voters in no hope seats would have been easier, if the UKIP had explicitly stood aside in some of the Tory margins.

All that said, a political party owes no allegiance to any of its competitors, so I do not concur with some Conservatives who see this loss of seats as some kind of treachery on the opart of UKIP