Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the new manifesto from UKIP – Britain’s Tea Party – is the debt it owes to its most bitter ideological opponents, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
From the simperingly centrist, faux-Tory Prime Minister, it has borrowed the technique of trying to wrong-foot its enemies on the left by trying to ape their language. Just as Cameron infamously urged Conservatives to “hug a hoodie”, panic about melting glaciers, and see the merit in the socialistic witterings of Guardian writer Polly Toynbee, so UKIP has shunned the right-wing press and chosen to soft-launch its avowedly “blue-collar” (ie working class) manifesto with an interview in the left-leaning Prospect magazine.
Furthermore, UKIP’s director of policy Tim Aker has made the dubious claim that the party has moved beyond the “left-right, libertarian-authoritarian” paradigm. No, it hasn’t. No party ever can or will: this is a statist fantasy akin to Tony Blair’s “Third Way”. Policies can only ever possibly be left or right, libertarian or authoritarian. The suggestion that there is some magical, sweetly reasonable parallel universe where none of these labels apply is the kind of cynical fudge one associates with the tired old, same old Westminster political class, not with crusading Tea Partiers determined to put an end to Big Government.
As for the Nick Clegg influence, this rotten smell can be detected in at least a couple of the new policies. One is in UKIP’s declared opposition to the “Bedroom Tax”; another is its insistence – despite deep concerns about the growing, indeed terrifying, pensions liability overhang – that UKIP has no plans to raise the retirement age.
Both are classic cases of what is known in the trade as “playing the Lib Dem” game. That is, saying whatever is necessary to get you the most votes, regardless of how badly it betrays your ideological principles. (The Liberal Democrats are notorious for this: if it’s a Muslim constituency, their candidate will tend to drape himself in the black flag of the Islamic State and demand the restoration of the Caliphate; if it’s in a seaside constituency full of pensioners, he’ll demand massive public subsidies for tea dances, bridge evenings and zimmer frames).
In cheap, low-down, vote-catch terms, the two policies make a sort of sense: the “Bedroom Tax” (an utterly dishonest term frequently touted by the BBC and the Guardian to describe the Conservatives’ actually perfectly sensible policy of making sure that benefits claimants don’t get free housing with more rooms than they need; so, not a “tax” at all because it was never the claimants’ money in the first place) has little popular support; raising the pension age would hardly play well with UKIP’s natural constituency among the elderly.
But in terms of ideological integrity they make no sense whatsoever. If UKIP are as serious as they claim they are about cutting the deficit then clearly they have to reduce any form of frivolous public spending. With people living much longer than they used to – and, wearing out far less quickly than they used to – there seems no obvious reason why the taxpayer should have to indulge them with free money for the last twenty-five or thirty years of their lives. (Yes, it would be a nice idea: but where’s the money?). Similar rules apply to the “Bedroom Tax”: how, exactly is it either fair or fiscally responsible that people making no contribution to the economy should yet be granted more spacious housing than those who have to pay their own way?
All that said, there is a lot that is hard-headed, sensible and even brave in much of UKIP’s manifesto. Its plans to limit child-benefit payments to two children per family only may have a whiff of China about it: but since when was it the government’s job to subsidise the feckless and work-shy to breed more children than they can afford to raise or taxpayers can afford to school and, later, house in prison? Its plans to scrap the Climate Change Act (and most of the entirely unnecessary Department of Energy and Climate Change, by the sounds of it) confirm that UKIP is the only major political party prepared seriously to address Britain’s energy crisis. The Climate Change Act – and the associated drive for “renewables” – is costing the UK economy in excess of £18 billion a year. And that’s before you factor in the damage done to our matchless landscape by all those bat-chomping, bird-slicing eco-crucifixes…