LOCAL ELECTIONS: UKIP gives the right signals, but remains in a political siding

Why is UKIP such a signal failure in British politics?

Apparently – according to ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie, no less than Plymouth’s finest son Gary Streeter has opined that “the Tories have lost votes to UKIP because David Cameron isn’t Conservative enough”. A bit rich coming from a former SDP turncoat, but all the same it’s about up to par with the usual searing brilliance of Gary’s observations. Similarly, Dan Hannan tweets that the UKIP share of the vote ‘is the great unreported story of the night’. Getting 14% in a mid-term local government protest election is sort of OK, but what does UKIP really have to show for it?

UKIP has existed as an anti-EU bloc now since 1994. The Party is getting towards the end of its second decade in British politics, and has yet to win a single Parliamentary seat. Nigel Farage (a decent enough bloke, but not really a national leader) blames the system for this, and he is partly right. But the system doesn’t stop George Galloway (a thoroughly indecent bloke) from getting elected with alarming regularity.

Those Sloggers who dismiss me as “having it in for” Farage should put their pride away and look at the facts. I watched UKIP in action on the ground in Bercow’s constituency during the 2010 General Election; to be frank, the organisation was all over the place, and the leadership non-existent. With somebody credible at the helm – and a proper, tactically adept electoral machine in place looking for breakthroughs with genuine thoroughness and imagination – UKIP would double its vote and be bigger than the LibDems within two years.

I do not dislike Mr Farage – I spoke to him once on the telephone and he struck me as quite amusing. His press officer is also an exceptionally nice chap, and Farage made a positive impression on several of the other candidates in Buckingham. Indeed, no less a superbrain than Peter Oborne told me recently that he always looks forward to seeing Nigel “because he’s clubbable and talks a great deal of sense”. However, the newspaper for which Oborne writes – the Daily Telegraph – is very anti-EU…but not UKIP. And, I’m here to tell you, it would take a lot to drag the men on Sark in that direction. Why?

Not a single national newspaper beyond the Express has overtly come out during the eighteen years of Party existence at an important election and said ‘Vote UKIP’. I have to say that, having only that newspaper on your side only adds to the sense of tired old Little Englanders raging at foreigners from their bathchairs. It is largely untrue as an image of UKIP supporters, but only a leadership figure who looks the part and speaks with gravitas is ever going to change that. UKIP – for all that I loathe the man’s hypocritical pragmatism – needs its Tony Blair. And Nigel Farage is not that man.

Dan Hannan is fond of remarking that the BBC’s anti-UKIP bias is a disgrace, and I accept that up to a point as well. Auntie’s website this morning barely mentions UKIP at all. But although the coverage the Party got comes near the bottom of the heap, significantly it looks like this:

  • UKIP has its best ever local election night with a 14% share where they stood but few extra councillors
  • George Galloway’s Respect gains five councillors in Bradford and unseats Labour group leader

Sorry, but for me those items are not biased. In fact, they are spot-on: Galloway gets five more councillors – real power – where UKIP gets a 14% share of the vote….and still has no power.

With the object of his ire falling apart across the Channel – and looking odds-on to drag us down with it – 14% is a very poor show. It smacks of bluff bonhommie and bad strategy. And as a buck, that one has to come back to the leader’s desk.

It’s a toughie to make the political grade in the UK as a single-issue Party. UKIP is a long way from being that, but it’s what most people still think. Were I in charge of their marketing, I’d place far more stress on the word Independence – it is positive, it has many dimensions of great appeal concerning everything from personal liberty to export markets, and it is going to be a very important emotional word in the world that could emerge from the trauma we’re about to suffer. But why is no thinking like that coming through?

Let’s take the age demographic for starters. If the UKIP leadership don’t know by now that their appeal is massively skewed over 55, then they need shooting. But this just happens to be by far the biggest demographic in the UK – and it is concentrated in some very right-wing coastal areas where there are also large undercurrents of the dispossessed fed up with the Ed Miller Band. A lot of them are indeed in the South West – and especially in Gary Streeter’s Plymouth hell-hole. But one minor-league Tory wittering on about lost votes does not a breakthrough make. Where is the obvious ‘localism’ strategy used by the early 1960s Liberals  to convert their efficient local policies into national MPs? Nigel Farage should be cutting a swathe through older Tory voters. But whatever rentagob Gary says, they are staying remarkably loyal to probably the most devious and ineffective Prime Minister this country has ever had – after Harold Wilson.

Look at the Right Wing of the Tory Party. It is chock full of rabid eurosceptics, and shares precisely the same education, tax and defence policies as the UKippers. But not one of them has yet converted to the Farrago of characters orbiting around the UKIP leader. Would Graham Brady ever move across to UKIP? Would John Redwood? In my view, not a chance. Why?

I think the answer is simply this: UKIP is not a serious political movement in the eyes of Westminster, the media, strong political minds, psephology professionals, business, or any but the most virulently anti-EU fringe voter. Fine, the BBC says UKIP supporters are mad and the Tories dismiss its policies as swivel-eyed. Fine, last night one in seven Brits voted UKIP. But at the last count – by ICM/Guardian in October 2011  – 70%  of us want a Referendum on the EU, 49% of Brits would Pull Out tomorrow, and 58% of Tory voters feel the same.

That’s a level of sentiment way beyond the Daily Express tendency – but UKIP isn’t. Nigel Farage is a hail-fellow-well-met bloke from the pub who talks straight and wants the best for his country. But he’s not a Prime Minister, and he is not going to punch a hole through the political class’s wall. If he could do that, he’d have done it by now.

This time, Faragistas, I have restricted my comments entirely to a point by point critique of your hero’s performance as leader of the UK Independence Party. It’d be nice if you responded in kind, but I’m not holding my breath. Anyway, if you start yelling and hurling insults as per last time, the Slogspam fate awaits. It’s your call.

Related: Is Jeremy the Witch going to evade the hunt?