Robin Butley writes:
UKIP’s manifesto, launched at the end of last week, is a slim document with as much detail left out as is decently possible. The party, which did well in the 2004 European Parliament election, winning 12 seats (up from three in 1999), is adopting the guise of the outsider for this general election – which is hardly surprising. It’s what right-wing populist campaigns always do, it fits with UKIP’s myth that we were once free-born Englishmen who have been stripped of our rights and identity by faceless Brussels bureaucrats and the conniving of the “old parties” – and UKIP knows that it hasn’t a hope in hell of winning a seat in the Commons.
It’s not just that UKIP’s support is too thinly spread for success under first-past-the-post. The creation of Veritas (see below) has split its core vote and has taken away its main man of 2004, Robert Kilroy-Silk, leaving the party in the hands of such charismatic figures as Godfrey Bloom MEP (“No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age”) and Nigel Farage MEP, who was photographed in June 1997 in conversation with two members of the British National Party, Mark Deavin, then the BNP’s head of research, and Tony Lecomber, who has served one prison sentence for possession of explosives and another for stabbing a Jewish schoolteacher.
UKIP doesn’t even have very much hope of inflicting real damage to the Tories – unlike the Referendum Party in 1997, which split the right-wing vote in many key constituencies on an issue that clearly separated it from the Tories. This time out, there is no meaningful difference in rhetoric. The only clear blue water is UKIP’s clear commitment to leaving the EU without a referendum. The Tory policy of an immediate referendum on the EU constitution followed by “renegotiation” clearly amounts to the same end, in the minds of potential voters oscillating between the two.
All the same, the UKIP manifesto says a lot about the obsessiveness of the right-wing Eurosceptic mindset. As its leader, Roger Knapman MEP, says in his introduction: “The UK Independence Party exists because none of the old political parties are prepared to accept that the real government of Britain is now in Brussels . . . People sometimes tell me that UKIP is a single-issue party. The point is that the single issue of freeing Britain from the EU over-rides all others – no other issues can be properly addressed while we remain in the EU.”
The manifesto proper is predictably focused on the EU’s supposed evils: “This alien system of government is bad for our economy, our self-respect and our prosperity. . . The only way for Britain is UKIP's way: we must leave. Until this is done, individuals and our businesses will continue to be strangled by all the ill-conceived intrusive regulation, supposedly to protect our environment, to ensure our health and safety, to uphold all our 'rights' and, most recently, to protect us from terrorism.”
“Formal withdrawal from the EU will be achieved by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act. This will release us from obligations under EU treaties and reestablish the precedence of UK law over EU law. We shall immediately stop paying into the EU budget and we shall resume full independent participation in international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation. It will be possible to scrap some EU rules like the working time directive without delay.”
But won’t this have some deleterious effects? Of course not. UKIP confidently predicts that “there is no question of threats to the 3 million UK jobs that are associated with exports to the EU” – despite clear warnings from reputable economists and significant foreign investors. But never mind, the EU depends on us to import their stuff: “We consistently buy more from EU countries than we sell them so it would not be in their interests to disrupt this trade –- they will still want to sell us their wine and cars . . . Our release from the EU's common external tariffs will also enable us to strengthen our trade relationships with countries outside the EU such as the countries of the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), the Far East and our natural trading partners in the Commonwealth who share our language and business methods.”
But it’s not just no to the European Union: “We also say NO to the culture of paperwork, performance targets and spin, NO to uncontrolled immigration, NO to a society in which everything is regulated and dissent is suppressed by fear and political correctness.” Needless to say, “Having taken Britain out of the EU, the UK Independence Party would aim to approach zero net immigration both by imposing far stricter limits on legal immigrants and by taking control, at last, of the vexed problem of illegal immigration.”
As for fiscal policy, UKIP says that there is an “urgent need for immediate tax reduction in several areas”, including income tax, council tax (which should be halved) and inheritance tax (the threshold for which should be raised to £500,000) – all of which would be paid for by “raising government borrowing to provide £30 billion per year”. In the long run, “UKIP would aim for substantial simplification all round and a lower overall tax burden … We are sympathetic to proposals for a 'flat tax'.”
OK, you might think, so UKIP comprises a bunch of reactionary right-wing anti-tax deregulationist xenophobes – but so what? They’re not going to win anything. Which is fair enough until you realise that, unless there is a major upset on May 5, UKIP is going to be at the core of the “no” campaign when it comes to the referendum on the European constitution next year (assuming France doesn’t vote no first). And the useless idiots of the British anti-European left – the Labour Party’s Eurosceptics, the Green Party (in England though not in Scotland and Wales), Respect, Sinn Fein, most of the Trots and Stalinists – are going to have to work out sooner rather than later whether they’re prepared to hold hands with these loons.