In the run up to the 2015 general election, commentators began talking about two factions that had supposedly emerged within UKIP: the Reds and the Blues. The story goes like this: UKIP began as a party appealing to a broadly conservative demographic, concentrated in the South of England, especially in Kent and Essex; these people constitute ‘Blue UKIP’. Then, as time went on, more and more voters in the North of England (and Wales, to a lesser extent) became disillusioned with the Labour Party, and started voting UKIP instead; these people constitute ‘Red UKIP’. Since the two factions come from different ideological backgrounds and want to pull UKIP in different directions, they supposedly threaten to tear the party asunder.
The story, whilst not without merit, is much too simplistic. For starters, much of UKIP’s support comes from those who previously didn’t vote at all. In addition, the number of people who switched from Lib Dem to UKIP in 2015 was twice the number who drifted over from Labour, which itself was not that much higher than the number who switched from the BNP. In any case, it is true that UKIP is drawing support from all over the political spectrum. In order to maintain that support, the party needs to be more than a mishmash of different ideas and ideologies; it needs to have a coherent stance that appeals to all of those people. To a certain extent, I think it already does. The key is to conceive of the party in the right way and to build upon that conception.
UKIP needs to present itself as what you might call a ‘radical democratic’ party. That is, a party that wants radical constitutional change in order to restore and enhance British democracy.
Left and right may be framed as political opposites but there’s a key point where libertarian-ish conservatives and anti-authoritarian leftists see eye to eye: they all oppose the concentration of power in big, remote, opaque, unaccountable institutions; they all want to bring power back to the people, the community and the individual. This is where UKIP steps in: by railing against the corporatist political establishment and advocating reforms that will put power back in the hands of you and I, UKIP is speaking to major portions of both left and right.
How does (and should) this radical democracy manifest itself? First, in UKIP’s opposition to the EU. There has always been a small sliver of leftists who realised that the EU was not on their side and the utter contempt displayed by the Troika towards the Greek people over the past two months has pushed many more in a eurosceptic direction. Left and right may not share ideals, but we can at least share the view that whatever happens in Britain should be decided by the British people and the British Parliament, rather than by a contingent of unelected technocrats in a different country.
Looking to the UKIP 2015 manifesto, we also find advocacy of: a recall bill to allow constituents to sack their MP, a proportional electoral system to make seats match votes, reducing the size of the House of Commons, reforming MPs’ expenses, introducing open primaries, and allowing the electorate to call national referenda — all excellent pro-democratic reforms that both left and right can support. The manifesto does not mention reforming the House of Lords; personally, I believe that a fully elected (and much smaller) House of Lords should also be on the UKIP agenda.
In the realm of economics, Douglas Carswell is right to argue that UKIP should be calling for a “popular capitalism”. Both left and right want to combat the corporatist status quo but our solutions differ: the left call for nationalisation, believing that public ownership of institutions makes them democratically accountable. In reality, public ownership is a chimera; economic institutions can either be absorbed into the state apparatus, in which case they are accountable only to the political class (if anyone), or they can remain in the marketplace, in which case they are accountable to the consumers. Big Business loves the state, and hates liberal markets; the liberal marketplace is the friend of the consumer and the small businessman. Getting this message across to the left is not easy, but is certainly worth it. UKIP should not stray from a true free market position; doing so will only help reinforce the established state oriented system.
There is one final point that I would like to make, and that is in regard to style: above all, when presenting our ideas, we must remain positive. It is not enough to simply be against corporatism and corruption and bureaucracy and bank bailouts. It is also necessary to be for something new: a better system, a more democratic system, a system of decentralised power. UKIP is a reformist party, a party that wants to restore the trust of the British people in their political and economic institutions.
In the end, it is not a matter of Red versus Blue, but of those who support the undemocratic status quo against those who want radical pro-democratic reform. This I feel is the place where UKIP carves out a unique and coherent position capable of attracting support from both the left and the right.