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What does UKIP stand for? As far as the EU and immigration is concerned, its position couldn’t be clearer. Every voter in Britain is probably aware that UKIP stands for Britain leaving the EU, and restricting immigration. Without a single member of the Westminster Parliament UKIP has successfully established its distinctive political brand, based on two policy areas and a general dislike of anything involving political correctness, human rights, equality, or health and safety.
But in many major policy areas, do we know what UKIP actually stands for? Before last year’s Council elections the BBC attempted a round-up of UKIP policies here. It concluded that UKIP was for: large tax cuts and large public spending cuts, increased defence spending, a doubling of prison places, fracking, student grants and grammar schools. It was against: equal marriage, wind farms and HS2.
But earlier this year, UKIP’s 2010 General Election manifesto was disowned as ‘almost 500 pages of junk’ by UKIP’s new policy director Tim Aker, a statement with which Nigel Farage agreed. A new manifesto is currently being written and ‘will be published later this year for the 2015 General Election’ At the moment, in many areas, UKIP policy is something of a mystery.
So as we approach May’s European Elections it could be quite difficult to predict how UKIP members of the European Parliament will vote on any particular issue. That is, if they vote at all. They have been heavily criticised for poor attendance and voting records, even on votes that may be finely balanced and have significant impact on the UK.
Conservative MEP Vicky Ford complained in October 2013: “The votes are so close and if Ukip is not in the room then we will lose the vote. Small numbers of votes regularly tip the balance.
“Every bit of detail is hammered out in a three-way meeting between the European Parliament, European Commission and Council of Ministers but on financial services I am often the only Brit in the room, or with LibDem MEP Sharon Bowles.
“Ukip has never once turned up to trialogue meetings. These negotiations are crucial to the UK and the City of London.
“The big scandal is they are invited to these meetings and do not bother to turn up.”
In response to such criticism, Paul Nuttall MEP, Chairman of UKIP, replied:
"So what? I treat Brussels with the contempt it deserves." His website states, "As well as defending the UK’s interests in the European Parliament, Paul will campaign in Britain so UKIP can make a breakthrough at Westminster.’ Indeed it seems that UKIP MEPs have, whilst holding the European Parliament in contempt, used the public profile and
generous salaries and allowances that come with being an MEP to build their party in the UK.
So in the May elections, UKIP candidates may be asking people to give them their support, with little idea of how or if they will use that mandate in the European Parliament. This could be said to show a lack of respect for the electorate. Even on an issue as significant as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, it is difficult to know where UKIP stands. Iain McKie, an investment banker and UKIP Parliamentary candidate for the Isle of Wight in 2015, has written, in something of an understatement, "Given that this would be the world’s largest ever free trade agreement, we really should have an opinion."
As UKIP is attracting disillusioned voters from both Labour and the Conservatives, this ‘blank sheet’ approach seems to be working, a way of pleasing all of the people all of the time. People on low incomes may feel that a UKIP vote is a protest against the political establishment. Prosperous people who resent paying tax, or any restrictions on their freedom, identify with the buccaneering, libertarian approach of Nigel Farage. When definite policies are finally published, it will be interesting to see how many people find that UKIP was not quite the party they had imagined.
* More on UKIP from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ukip
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet