If you spend any amount of time discussing UKIP on social media, then you’ll very quickly run into some UKIP supporters. Some of these are merely UKIP voters, while some are full UKIP members & activists (or even candidates). But they all seem to have a few arguments in common.
“UKIP are winning elections”
Well they’re not, quite simply.
UKIP won the recent European Election – but I’m not entirely sure how much a wholly Eurosceptic party should be celebrating that fact. Nor should we read all that much into it:
“Single issue party wins famously low turnout election on their single issue” isn’t exactly a ‘man bites dog’ headline, after all; if we directly elected Environment Ministers, I’m willing to bet the Green Party would storm it – but that doesn’t mean we’d suddenly start voting Green for everything else as well.
It’s also worth pointing out that Labour did about as well as UKIP in the European elections (UKIP increased their vote share by 11pts; Labour increased theirs by 9.7pts) – because what actually happened is the Liberal Democrat vote completely collapsed.
What would be more indicative of the oft-cried ‘UKIP earthquake’ would be some evidence that people were electing UKIP representatives in Britain.
But they aren’t.
In the May 2014 local elections, UKIP’s vote share actually dropped 5 percentage points (from 22% in 2013 to 17% in 2014) – even though there were EU elections on the same day.
UKIP elected 163 councillors – which was a lot for UKIP, but insignificant in terms of UK politics (Labour elected 2121 on the day, and both the Conservatives & Labour have over 7000 local councillors. Each.)
In the 2010 General Election, UKIP stood 558 candidates, across almost the entire UK. They took a measly 3.1% of the vote share.
But perhaps more tellingly, in 82.3% of the seats UKIP stood for, the UKIP candidate lost his deposit (didn’t even receive 5% of the vote) – that’s a firm rejection of the party by 4/5 of the electorate.
Since the General Election, UKIP have contested 16 by-elections. In only one of these (Eastleigh) did UKIP come remotely close to winning – at no other has a UKIP candidate come within even 19 percentage points of the victor.
I’ll just reiterate that:
In all but one by-election since 2010, the UKIP candidate was at least 19 percentage points behind the winner, in terms of vote share. That’s not ‘winning’.
It’s not even close.
“It’s not UKIP Policy”
Criticising the stances held by senior UKIP figures is incredibly easy, whether it’s misogyny, homophobia or pledging to dismantle the NHS, so an immediate defence of such comments is to insist that they “aren’t UKIP Policy”.
Well that’s because there aren’t any UKIP policies; UKIP is a party with no manifesto whatsoever (they’ve completely disowned their old one, although we’re promised one in September).
It does rather beg the question that, if the public statements of senior members like Farage, Nuttall and Helmer are not to be taken as ‘things UKIP stand for’, then what do UKIP supporters think they’re supporting?
And, just as importantly, why is a party without any policies (or any MPs) a regular feature on a political programme like BBC Question Time?
Clearly this is a stance intended to render UKIP immune to criticism, but instead it creates the impression of supporters who are voting for… soundbites? Anti-immigration rhetoric? Farage’s crocodilian smile?
But this also ties into the next UKIP defence.
“The Party isn’t bigoted”
It’s trivial to find examples of UKIPpers of all levels revealing utterly heinous, medieval attitudes – in fact, it’s rare for a week to go by without one of them getting into the news for bigotry.
And the boilerplate defence is that it’s not UKIP who believe these horrible racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic things, it’s just “a few bad apples” etc. Often with the proviso that UKIP – a political party which can afford to stand 558 candidates in a general election and 2140 candidates in a local election, just “can’t manage proper background checks”.
Or even a cursory glance a prospective candidate’s Facebook page, and quite a lot of these ‘bad apples’ were (as many UKIP supporters will tell you) had ‘gone bad’ well before they joined UKIP. Roger Helmer, for example, spewed quite a lot of his bigotry when he was still a member of the Conservative Party. Neil Hamilton similarly was found guilty of corruption when he was a Tory. And so on.
Which begs the question – if you’re running an applecart, why are you deliberately recruiting bad apples?
And putting a sign above your cart that says “we just can’t be bothered checking for bad apples” doesn’t actually absolve you of responsibility when your apples start hurling racist abuse at comedians.
(Okay, I think I’ve probably stretched that metaphor to breaking point now…)
Of course, given that the average UKIPper is very good at regurgitating these selfsame arguments but not quite so good at listening to a rebuttal, I’m not going to pretend that pointing any of this out will help any.
But at least you’ll have some idea of what to expect, I suppose.
Thanks to Dave Evans