The outsider tamed: will the Farage style survive parliamentary participation?

By Jill Segger
October 10, 2014

Politicians rarely make sense in the aftermath of a by-election. Neither Clacton nor Heywood and Middleton (9 October 2014) were exceptions. David Cameron claims that a vote for Ukip will put Ed Miliband in Downing Street. Nigel Farage suggests that voting Labour benefits the Tories.

Face must be saved, defeat presented as a minor setback, the narrowest of victories as epoch making. So standing back a little from the conflicting claims that by-election results are not replicated in general elections and that the tectonic plates have shifted, it may be worth looking at some possible consequences of the events of Thursday night.

There is much discussion of the crumbling of what were once predictable loyalties and psephologists are busy taking new bearings. Less attention seems to have been paid to the tensions that are likely to arise from Ukip actually having an MP or two.

It is not necessary to agree with Douglas Carswell's politics to see that he is of a different stamp to the run of Ukip candidates and MEPs. His acceptance speech was far more nuanced and graceful than anything I have heard from the mouths of other members of his party: “To my new party I offer these thoughts. Humility when we win, modesty when we are proved right. If we speak with passion let it always be tempered by compassion. We must be a party for all Britain and all Britons, first and second generation as much as every other.” It is not hard to imagine the offering meeting with modified rapture from his new colleagues.

Nigel Farage has run Ukip as a one-man-band for a long time. Having to co-operate and share influence with a man who knows Westminster and its workings will not be easy for him. Once the excitement of the electoral honeymoon is over, this relationship may well go sour.

If Mark Reckless wins in Rochester and Strood and if – as is frequently hinted – more Conservative MPs are thinking of 'coming over' in the months running up to May 2015, Ukip's leader will have to rethink the kind of adolescent oafishness with which he and his colleagues behave in Brussels. Insulting officials and turning your back to the EU flag may play well with the angry old men of Ukip, but a far more responsible demeanour will be expected in our national parliament. The higher level of scrutiny to which Ukip MPs will be subject could cramp the Farage style considerably.

Nigel Farage may be a hyperbolic opportunist, but he is an intelligent man. He knows that his anti-politics and anti-establishment stance will not survive participation in a sovereign national parliament. Any encouragement to his MPs to behave in accordance with the old dispensation would destroy the very raison d'etre of the party – and parliamentarians like Carswell and Reckless are unlikely to let him forget it.

So what is left for the man who has based both his personal political identity and that of his party on outsider status? Today's ugly comments about people with HIV may be a worrying pointer to his future efforts at differentiation. It is to be hoped that the 'convert' MPs will distance themselves from such behaviour.

* More on Ukip from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ukip

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

Keywords:UKIP | UK parliament | mps | Farage
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