Not two UKIPs, three UKIPs.

As the day goes on, the initial UKIP-fest is wearing off a bit as more local election results come in. It’s still a good excuse to discuss this article in the Torygraph by Stephen Bush, someone who apparently “works on Benedict Brogan’s must-read e-mail”. Presumably, when he gets promoted, another intern will proudly announce that they write Stephen Bush’s must-read blog.

Bush makes the intelligent point that most political parties are rather different to the group of people they represent, and that this is especially true of UKIP. He goes on to say that there are two UKIPs, one made up of libertarians who are awesome and one made up of racists, who aren’t. I think we can refine this a bit. I think you can identify three. Specifically, I think there are three generations within UKIP, which exist for historical reasons.

Group one are the original class of 2001. These people were either UKIP charter members, were inherited from the Referendum party, or were drawn in from the right flank of the Tories directly. Ideologically, we can split them into two subgroups. The first of these are the Euro-obsessives, the ones who, like the party’s founder Alan Sked, care intensely about the European Union and the abstract concept of sovereignty. These people signed up for the ostensible purpose of UKIP, British withdrawal from the EU.

Sked has recently quit the party, protesting that it’s been taken over by racists who don’t really care about the EU, but he protests too much. He protests too much because of the other subgroup, the old-school extreme right. Whatever Sked says now, the early party was full of really appalling extremists like holocaust-denier Alistair McConnachie and Alistair Harper, editor of a “Nordicist journal”, plus endless variations on the themes of BNP or NF entryism, 1970s paramilitary fantasy, Ulster loyalism, and racism. Searchlight did a fine job annotating the 2001 list of candidates, their first nation-wide campaign, but the document is now only available in bits, some of which I link to.

Gordon Ferguson, who threatened to hang the whole Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat parties because he didn’t get enough media training, is probably a good example. Tim Fenton‘s comments point out, tellingly, that his patch has an active and extreme Orange lodge. These people should remind us most of all of the remarkably intense extreme-right response to the first Blair government – the conspiracy theory about Blair abolishing the death penalty for fear he would be hanged for being in the European Union is absolutely classic.

Group two emerged around 2004 and the spike in media interest generated by Robert Kilroy-Silk’s involvement with the party. Again, we can identify two subgroups here. The first of these are the libertarian entryists. American-style Internet libertarianism was fashionable, although no more popular than it ever has been, and a lot of them joined UKIP thinking that they could take over and direct it to their purposes. A similar motive was the idea that anti-EU sentiment is uniquely popular, so dousing libertarianism in it would make it popular. Hence we get Tim Worstall and Marta Andreesen as candidates. The second subgroup, the ex-Tory careerists, was motivated by the Tory party’s disarray under Iain Duncan Smith, and felt that the Tories had no future and also that it would be easier to make a career in a smaller party, for want of competition. (Although these two are both a bit late, tantric loverman Dr Earth and Bradistani kidnapper are exhibits A and B, as both of them are failed Tories. Winston McKenzie, of UKIP carnival fame, is another.)

Group three is 2010 and after, and is by far the biggest group. It is motivated by long-term economic crisis, by the Tories being in a coalition, and by those kids on your lawn. It doesn’t have much at all in common with groups one or two – famously, it doesn’t care about Europe and it agrees strongly with left-wing ideas on the economy. Libertarianism, abstract notions of sovereignty, or deranged putschist fantasies are much beside the point. I caricature them as grumpy protectionists.

So, basically, we have a ramshackle coalition of the grumpy. The biggest single group in it would like to vent intestinal gas, and wants its NHS and its BBC and its institutions in general. The second-biggest group either wants to sell all of those, or doesn’t care as long as they get to be an MEP. The smallest group is either obsessed by the EU, or else by Alan Clark diary fantasies, and has the most seniority in the party’s organisation, but also the least professionalism. UKIP is very different, in this sense, to something like the FN, which has a strong ideological and hierarchical armature under the plaster curves of Marianne (probably something like this).

It’s no surprise that Nigel Farage basically makes up policy on the spur of the moment; it’s the only way to respond to the movement’s utterly protean un-structure. I suspect that group three will get most of their way; there are more of them, they tend to turn up, and they are less flaky and risky than the glibertarians, eurofanatics, or pseudofascists.

Update: Important polling data has emerged regarding this post. Check it out.

16 comments

  1. Igor Belanov

    Judging by today’s council results in Leeds, UKIP seems to have taken over most of the BNP support in the wards where they were strong between 2000 and 2006, probably unsurprisingly. What seems a bit more odd is that in the Tory wards where they have polled well, the Tories and Labour have remained steady and it is the Lib Dem vote that has totally collapsed, beneath that of the Greens in most cases.

      • Igor Belanov

        I felt the odd bit wasn’t that the Lib Dem vote had collapsed in those wards, but that it seemed to coincide with the rise in UKIP votes, Labour and Tories retaining their positions.

        • Metatone

          I think it’s a double movement – some from all parties to UKIP, and then some from Lib Dems to Labour, and some Labour to Tories.

          (I keep reading “women floating voter” interviews where they are full of praise for George Osbourne, so despite austerity, the Tories have won some of the PR battles.)

  2. nick s

    I’d be interested to see UKIP gains in the local elections plotted against the number of times those councils appeared in Private Eye’s ‘Rotten Boroughs’, because there’s clearly more of a market for the Everything Is Shit These Days Party in places with one-party rule where the most important election has long been who gets the party endorsement.

  3. Phil Beesley

    “Sked has recently quit the party…”

    I think it is a bit longer than that. Alan Sked resigned as Ukip leader in 1997 and has been writing about entrism and the intolerant authoritarian right within the party ever since. It is unclear when he left the party completely, but most likely it was before the 1999 European parliamentary elections. We should be generous enough to accept that Sked was quick to spot that his project had gone of the rails.

    Incidentally, Ukip is not the only “new” party which has found it necessary to vet members. Back in the 1980s, the SDP required members to declare any association with far right organisations following some clumsy attempts at entrism.

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