Monday, January 7, 2013

The Tory media doesn't understand UKIP

I blame Dan Hannan.

No, really.

I am sure that it was he who started this meme that the Tories should do a deal with UKIP. If it wasn't, he certainly publicised it.

And whilst said meme is not being followed by everyone, the thought seems to be entering the tiny wee brains of many Tory commentators.

And even if they are not actively contemplating a pact, there seems to be a large increase—no doubt boosted by UKIP's ever-growing poll ratings and recent by-election successes—in articles by Tories advising Cameron to at least stop dismissing UKIP as a bunch of "fruitcakes, loonies, and closet racists" (always an unwise phrase for Cameron to use, given the make-up of much of his own party).

Today, both Iain Dale and Paul Goodman have articles whose theme could be very well be adapted by Noel Coward (were he alive) into a little ditty called Don't Let's Be Beastly To The UKIP.

Urging Cameron to stop insulting UKIPpers and, instead, to "hug them close", Iain Dale lays out the basic thrust of the message:
It’s no good developing a strategy for dealing with UKIP after June 2014. It needs to start now. And being nice to UKIP might just be a start.

Paul Goodman, meanwhile, illustrates why "being nice to UKIP" is about the only start that the Tories are likely to get. After all, if one is going to have any chance of beating one's enemy, one must understand him—and Goodman doesn't seem to understand the nuances of UKIP's strategy.

First, like all journalists, he seems to think—just because Nigel Farage is the most visible UKIP spokesman—that the party leadership is Nigel Farage. It isn't.
Surveys by YouGov and Lord Ashcroft have separately established that the EU is not the top issue for Mr Farage’s voters (which is why he has astutely sought to abandon the party’s longer title and pound-symbol badge).

Back in the mists of time, when I was first a member of the party, in 2005 (I think), I had fairly constant contact with the leadership of UKIP. Not just with Nigel and the other MEPs, but I also used to hang out with the researchers and strategists who work in the background.

Dropping the pound logo and the party's longer title were discussed at around this time, so that a new image might be formed in order to support the party's emerging strategy of creating a broader, country-wide manifesto.

As it happens, it was decided that the time was not right for any kind of formal change, although the party has been known as UKIP for some time.

However, this broader manifesto was urged forward—and its thematic principles largely devised by—a group of people who were, broadly speaking, libertarian-leaning and, in many cases, bloggers. Regular readers might remember such characters as England Expects, Trixy and Vindico; Timmy, of course, is still around (and even I played a small part).

What does this have to do with Goodman's article?

The point is that there are some clever strategists in UKIP—people who are driven by principle and theory, but this group is also bolstered by people who have some idea of political strategy.

Most people cite "immigration" as one of UKIP's main bug-bears, but they fail to understand the nuances of this area—as Goodman so ably demonstrates here... [Emphasis mine.]
The Prime Minister’s best chance of squeezing Mr Farage’s support is thus to avoid being drawn too deep into the EU quagmire and keep hold of the strategic high ground – in other words, to deliver policy success. This entails George Osborne reducing the structural deficit further, Michael Gove pressing on with his schools revolution, Theresa May reducing immigration to the tens of thousands and Iain Duncan Smith introducing the universal credit and bearing down on welfare fraud and error – plus much of the programme of further reform that Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg will outline tomorrow.

It is in that highlighted section that Goodman makes a classic mistake (there are others in the article, but this one will serve amply to illustrate my point): it shows is that Goodman has not understood the UKIP strategy here and, in fact, this suggestion risks alienating UKIP voters further. Let me explain...

The UKIP leadership and strategists have, for some years, been pushing the "Anglosphere" and "our own kith and kin in the Commonwealth" as part of the trade solution on Britain removing itself from the EU.

As a result, UKIPpers tend to be well-disposed towards such nations, and their people. And the older UKIPpers (particularly, but not exclusively) revile Ted Heath for selling the Commonwealth down the river when we joined the EU.

And it is for this reason that UKIP's main focus when talking about immigration has been heavily weighted against unfettered EU immigration. And since Cameron and his merry band cannot reduce EU immigration (indeed, we are facing a new wave from Eastern Europe this year), the Conservatives cannot win this point.

As such, it doesn't matter whether Theresa May reduces immigration from outside the EU to one man and his gerbil—it will not make the blindest bit of difference to most UKIP voters.

Except, of course, in that allowing immigrants from Bulgaria but increasingly turning away, as Nigel put it, "our own kith and kin" from the Anglosphere and Commonwealth countries, she will further alienate UKIPpers.

I believe that it simply hasn't occurred to the Tories that UKIP's rallying cries might have some subtleties to them. And, largely, I lay the fault for this blindness at David Cameron's door.

After all, if the Conservative leader designates an entire party as "fruitcakes, loonies, and closet racists" then it is hardly suprsing that his planners should write off UKIP's strategists as simplistic and guileless.

Which is why I think that the Tories might be in for a shock.


Blue Eyes said...

If I was running Australia/New Zealand/Canada I don't know why I would prefer a unilateral trade deal with Britain when a unilateral trade deal with the whole EU was on the table.

Antisthenes said...

I never contemplated that UKIP was racist however I did not know that UKIP was also Comonwealthphiles. As I consider that I am more politically savvy than most voters then if I did not know of this side to UKIP then most voters will not either so this strategy you believe UKIP to have has no traction. What I do know is that UKIP has a far broader manifesto than just an exit from the EU. So to me a better strategy would be to emphasise that point and more thoroughly publish it.

Anonymous said...

Nothing stopping them from having both?

Gawain Towler said...

Quite a perceptive piece DK. And Blue eyes, you can have both. And with the technical ease of doing business in a common language with closely related business and trade rules and traditions will make a UK Aus, NZ, etc trade deal easier and quicker

Blue Eyes said...

My point (crikey, thought it was obvious) is that the whole "kith and kin" theory assumes that the Anglosphere would come running like a loyal dog to our aid if we jumped out of the EU then cast around for new trading partners.

Those jolly little Aussies and Kiwis would bound up, panting, desperate to impress and please their British cousins, wouldn't they. And I bet Malawi and Zambia are just desperate to open up their markets to British financial and legal services providers.

Dr Evil said...

You just left Schroedinger's cat out of the bag.

Aled Lumley said...

America seems to do quite well as a bloody large country. You get rich parts and poor parts, it's pretty stable really.

If Europe became Europe, rather than poxy little states. You'd still have a rich Europe, you'd have a more business friendly environment (hm ok the lawyers do occasionally fuck that up). Plus it would be a lot harder to wage war on a united Europe than a series of small countries bound by imaginary lines created around the farm lines and boundaries of Kings.

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