UKIP should become a pressure group

26 Sep 2016

 

The third of September marked the 23rd anniversary of UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party.

 

UKIP began its life as the Anti-Federalist League in 1991, a Eurosceptic political party that was founded by historian Alan Sked.

 

Although it was Sked's vision to see a world without bureaucratic and legalistic structures which set UKIP on its course, it's true figurehead has undoubtedly been Nigel Farage and his 'People's Army.'

 

Farage's re-assessment of UKIP's priorities during his leadership reframed it as a largely populist, bottom-up, and community-orientated network, which grounds its claims in a distaste for professional politics and a rejection of the so-called 'metropolitan elite.'

 

From 2010 until 2015, UKIP party membership increased every year. Starting from 15,000 members in 2010, it had climbed up to 42,000 by December 2014. This is a massive transformation for any party, but early indications show that it has began to fall again with a decline to just 39,000 members in July 2016.

 

Despite now having some 36,000 members, it only has one MP - a number which has declined since the last Parliament from a total of two. Notably, both of these have been politicians who had defected from the Conservative Party, meaning that no fresh UKIP MP has ever been elected.

 

Further, UKIP provides only a third of Britain's members of the European Union - an institution which it has been actively campaigning against since its conception.

 

Even more telling, UKIP makes up only 2% of local government, with 488 out of 20565 councillors belonging to the UKIP brand. This is an incredibly significant statistic, especially since UKIP relies on its grassroots support to spread their message and help run its campaigns.

 

In view of this, it could very well be argued that UKIP's lack of parliamentary presence reflects its inability to transform its populist support into electoral success through votes in elections.

 

This tenuously parallels the social activism of Corbyn's Labour Party. With its grassroots movements such as Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn's restyling of the Labour Party has placed a radical emphasis upon its people-centred support base, a direction which has been largely unprecedented since before the 1970's.

 

Stepping back in history to Michael Foot's leadership of the Labour Party between 1980 and 1983 can help to illustrate the essence of this narrative. Despite attracting vast scores of crowds at his rallies and campaign days, Foot's hope for the first office in British politics evaporated when it became apparent that his audiences were not representative of the nation at large. Being beaten by the Conservative's 42% majority, Foot lost 52 seats in the House of Commons and subsequently resigned.

 

Just as many supported the intentions of Foot's Labour, they didn't have enough confidence to place him in government, UKIP does not have a strong enough mandate to lead national government, despite many feeling a strong sense of Euroscepticism. 

Even in constituencies such as the Wyre Forest, where official polls 'were too close to call' saw UKIP gain only 16% of the vote in contrast to the Conservative's 45% share of the vote. This represents a gap of 14,427 between the two parties - a 30% difference.

 

UKIP's reductive philosophy fails to put forward an holistic programme for government. Instead, it has preferred to influence mainstream parties in addressing issues surrounding immigration and globalisation from a EU-centric perspective. It's ultimate success in this arena has been asserting pressure onto the Conservative Party to hold a referendum on the EU, which in turn has led to Brexit - the current situation which now confronts the nation.

 

UKIP's lifespan, however, does not necessarily mirror that of the UK's exit from the EU. Indeed, UKIP will undoubtedly have a large role to play in shaping Britain post-EU. The question that UKIP has to answer, nonetheless, is how can it remain sufficiently relevant in the eyes of the public as to sustain its influence?

 

In an age where people are increasingly voting on the basis of valence - the ability of a political party to offer competent governance on every issue - UKIP could very well lose its political clout if it is not careful about the future. This is particularly so if it neglects its supporters on the ground and in local communities.

 

It is this need to generate public demand that creates the most convincing argument for UKIP to become a pressure group. In contrast to political parties whose number one aim is to win power through elected office, pressure groups seek to assert influence upon the decision-making process as to steer policy in their favour. 

 

Becoming a pressure group gives collectives the flexibility to campaign and lobby for a particular cause or section of the community without being made to create a sufficiently wide enough programme for government. For UKIP, this would enable its policy development group to conduct more profound research on issues surrounding Britain's exit from the EU, of which there is a large number.

 

From immigration to public services, and from international collaboration to trade and commerce, being a pressure group would give UKIP the scope to conduct meaningful policy review on a range of issues.

 

It would also have the potential to introduce a more profound means as to sustain public engagement on a larger scale. By working with other Eurosceptic organisations and lobbies, UKIP could be empowered to maintain its political traction as to gain a more favourable Brexit deal.

 

A sustainable UKIP would require it to be collegiate, consultative, and community-based all at the same time. The pressure to seek power through elections could easily be reduced by conducting policy review and asserting influence upon political parties as a pressure group.

 

Whether UKIP has the courage to deliver this is a different discussion completely.

 

 

Read more articles by this commentator, or follow @CraigBatemanUK

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