Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Well, what now?

Just about everyone has written about Lord Pearson's resignation from the leadership of UKIP so I did consider simply ignoring the subject. Then I realized that silence was not really an option, given the periodic references to UKIP, euroscepticism, peers of the realm and Lord Pearson in particular on this blog.

As it happens, I do not think this is a crisis for euroscepticism or for UKIP, whose demise has been predicted by many people on many occasions, each time wrongly. The reason is that we actually need a party like UKIP and if the one we have falls short by some measure of what we ought to have, that does not mean that it can be dispensed with completely. We do need a eurosceptic party that will approach the subject with a more or less sensible attitude and not simply sigh for the non-existing good old days (though far too many in UKIP do that and that is part of the problem).

Lord Pearson's resignation may be a surprise to the media but not to anyone else who has listened to what he has been saying. He is not a professional politician, not a party animal, not somebody who has some kind of ambitions in that field. There was never any intention of a long stint as leader but he did want to reorganize or simply organize the party as a more or less professional outfit and to take it through the election with a hung Parliament as the aim.

He has been successful to some extent. UKIP has been reorganized and it is no longer quite the one-man band it was before. The fact that Farage is the only one the public sees is not such a big problem - he is a good public speaker and he is the one who is asked. After all, it is almost always Nick Clegg who speaks for the Lib-Dims but nobody thinks that it means the end of the party (worse luck).

The aim of the hung Parliament was achieved and while the Boy-King managed to get round the problem of having to listen to his party and the electorate by carrying out a mild political coup with his friend Nicky, the real difficulties lie ahead. I predict huge upheavals during and after the party conferences.

However, UKIP ought to have done better and some of the blame can be placed on the outgoing leader's shoulders. He never managed to look like a man who was leading a political party. The ridiculous stunts of him trying to campaign for other candidates who had joined Better Off Out but who did not always want him around, having been told by their own leaders to behave or else did not do him or the party any good. It did not look like a new kind of party whose leader cares about principles but like a feeble circus. When he actually went further and wrote to local newspapers in support of Conservative candidates who were kind of vaguely eurosceptic when there were UKIP candidates in the same constituencies there was uproar in the party and sniggering in the media.

Lord Pearson's explanation that he was putting country above party did not go down terribly well as it implied that those who were fighting on the ground with little support and at some cost to themselves were not thinking of their country while Conservative wannabes were. Oddly enough, as I listen to various comments about the resignation, it has become obvious to me that this is not the "gaffe" ill-wishing people recall but the unfortunate episode on TV when he made it clear he did not know what was in the UKIP manifesto. I doubt whether many people outside the bubble cared about that, given the general opinion about politicians and party leaders.

Yes, UKIP ought to have done better in the election. After all, the turn-out was very low (though higher than in the last two elections) despite the phenomenal unpopularity of the Brown government. Only 65 per cent of the electorate voted, proving beyond doubt that there was a sizeable section so fed up with every party and politician that they preferred to stay out of it. I find that attitude rather shocking, particularly as there are options around and it is not necessary to vote for the three main parties' candidates. The argument that there is no point in voting for a small party in our system hardly holds water for people who do not bother to vote at all. What is the point of that, precisely?

The question UKIP and, perhaps, the eurosceptic movement as a whole need to ask themselves is why did these people or, at least, a large proportion of them not put a cross against the UKIP candidate's name. It could have been Pearson's gaffe about the manifesto; it could have been the row about the Conservative candidates he supported; it could have been Nigel Farage's persona; it could have been the low level of knowledge and political acumen displayed by far too many of the party's candidates. Or it could have been a combination of some or all those factors. It could also have been the desperate desire of people in this country "to hold on to nurse for fear of something worse". In that scenario not voting is simply protesting but voting for a party that is trying to break the mould is making a statement that many people are afraid of doing.

UKIP will now, presumably, tie itself into knots over the leadership election. Early in September there is the party conference and all sorts of statements, rows and arguments will be precipitated. No doubt personal insults will fly around. If they have any sense at all, they will think very hard about the conundrum I posed above: why do people, who are clearly fed up with the main parties and main-stream politics prefer to opt out of the electoral process rather than vote UKIP.

I realize this is not getting us very far on the question of whither the eurosceptic movement as a whole but that, I do believe, is subject for another, quite different posting.

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