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During the BBC’s local election coverage David Dimbleby described Nigel Farage as ‘the man whose hour has come’. Despite UKIP winning control of no Councils (and their share of the vote actually falling compared with 2013) the media and the party seemed determined to portray a small tremor in the political landscape as a UKIP ‘earthquake’. But I would suggest that if any cracks are about to appear, they will be in UKIP itself, not the political Establishment it claims to reject.
Up to this point, UKIP’s elected representatives have been MEPs who treated the European Parliament with the contempt they felt it deserved, and their supporters, being of like minds, were happy for them to do so. There was little interest or accountability regarding their voting or attendance records. Now, as UKIP politicians take their seats in Council chambers, they will have to take decisions on mundane issues like bin collections and street lighting. It will be interesting to see how they fare.
Much was made of the fact that UKIP attracted votes from both Conservative and Labour voters, the implication being that this made them even more of a threat to the established parties. But I believe that this is in fact their weakness, and may indicate problems to come. Having ditched their previous manifesto as ‘500 pages of junk’, UKIP’s campaign had very little in the way of concrete policies, and questions were fended off with a promise of a new manifesto later in the year. This enabled the party to be all things to all men. People who blamed immigration for suppressing their wages thought that UKIP’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was the answer, perhaps not realising that in their Small Business manifesto of 2013, UKIP said ‘as a general rule, there is a price to be paid for better job security and holiday entitlement, and that is to accept lower wages or salary’
There are already signs that finalising a manifesto may not be without problems. Prior to the elections, the Disability News Service selected ten policies which disabled people’s organisations would like to see enacted, and asked all the parties where they stood."UKIP was unable to state its official position on the 10 policies, although its disability spokeswoman, Star Etheridge, said she 'personally' supported three of the policies." A footnote gave further explanation: "Etheridge said she personally supported the policies on blocking EU funding for segregated institutions, increased funding for disabled people’s organisations, and reversing austerity cuts in services and benefits for disabled people, but had not obtained the support of the party’s policy director or its ruling council on those issues."
Newly elected Councillor Star Etheridge is herself a wheelchair user. She is dedicated to the welfare of all disabled people and has campaigned tirelessly against cuts to services and benefits. Her sincerity, compassion, and commitment is evident. However, when the new UKIP manifesto is finalised, there is a possibility that she will be disappointed. Janice Atkinson, author of UKIP welfare policies, is a former Conservative, and it is difficult to imagine her agreeing to reverse the cuts to disability benefits, as Star Etheridge would wish. Even if she wanted to, it would be hard to square that with UKIP’s general desire to cut taxes and cut public spending.
UKIP’s vagueness on policy has allowed a very disparate group of people to gather under its banner, as voters and as candidates. When the party finally has to produce a coherent set of policies, and demonstrate how they will be funded, many may find that UKIP is not quite what they thought it was, or what they wanted it to be.
© 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