UKIP's 'racist' posters: bad economics, good politics

A Labour MP you've never heard of - Mike Gapes, anyone? - says that UKIP's new anti-EU poster campaign is "racist." Well, of course it is. Everything is "racist" these days from morris dancing to the name chosen by Jeremy Clarkson for his new dog.

When I first saw the posters - funded with £1.5 million by UKIP donor Paul Sykes - I must admit to having cringed slightly. There is something a bit xenophobic and, worse still, protectionist about this "bloody foreigners coming to steal our jobs" meme. But I can see who it's aimed at.

Current received wisdom at UKIP HQ is that there's more mileage to be had now in trying to steal votes from disgruntled, traditional Labour-voting communities in the North (where Paul Sykes comes from) than there is in playing to disgruntled, traditional Tory voters in the southern shires. This would explain too party leader Nigel Farage's recent attack on "zero hours contracts" in his Daily Express column.

Farage was careful to point out that he remains a champion of free markets and small businesses and that it is only big corporations whose pay structures he is concerned to address. Nevertheless, what we see here is "Red" UKIP advocating a degree of interventionism which its classical liberal wing (i.e. people like me) will definitely find a bit troubling.

Is this the beginning of the end, then, for UKIP - a party which used to define itself in opposition to the LibLabCon big three in the Westminster bubble, but which now appears to be borrowing their strategy of abandoning principles in order to appeal to as broad a constituency as possible?

Well, possibly. But I'm really not sure what other option it has. A political party's first priority is to get elected by whatever means necessary. UKIP may well have the best, wisest policies of any party in the land, but the only way it will ever be able to apply those policies is if first they work their magic at the ballot box.

One thing I've noticed whenever I've been to UKIP hustings and local party meetings is that the membership has any number of different personal priorities: there are some for whom unchecked immigration is the main concern; others are more concerned about loss of national sovereignty to the EU or about Tory fiscal incompetence or about Coalition energy policy. I'm one of those in the latter camp, but I appreciate that for many of the party's growing membership, fiscal, sovereignty and energy issues are of no interest whatsoever.

That's why, though I don't particularly warm to the new posters I can see that they are a necessary evil. UKIP needs a landslide at the Euro Elections to make its point and give the Conservatives the kick up the arse they so thoroughly deserve. Let's get the attention and the votes in first; a properly thought-through, joined-up, free-market policy can afford to wait.


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