For weeks now Westminster pundits have talked about ‘Red UKIP’ and potential divisions within the party. However it is almost always true to say that the talking heads have got it wrong about the question at the heart of UKIP, they think it’s left versus right but in reality it’s ideological purity versus broad appeal.
UKIP members are probably the most united bunch of politicos in the country, but most of them joined the party on the expectation they would be a fringe pressure group not a national force. The European elections changed that, and for the first time the protesters faced a daunting prospect: that they might actually win real power.
The problem here is very simple, UKIP was founded to advocate policies other parties wouldn’t. Politicians like Nigel Farage did not define winning as getting the largest number of votes, but rather getting their issues debated. A few years ago, UKIP would have seen a hardening of the Conservative and Labour position on immigration as a win for them, but times change.
So the division within UKIP is whether they should continue to fight for their core principles or should they become a broad church and fight to win. Every UKIP member has a strong opinion on the subject, but in truth there is no obvious answer.
UKIP is the country’s most successful pressure group, and a continuation of that strategy would probably force yet more of their policies onto the mainstream political parties. But UKIP is also the fourth largest political party and is a serious challenger is a huge number of council, European and parliamentary seats.
People like Patrick O’Flynn and Tim Aker take the idea of winning power seriously; they believe UKIP’s role is to win government. Others in the party are less sure, not least because they know that winning power means the party has to become a broad church.
It is now accepted wisdom in UKIP that – aside from a few MPs – if you have not defected from the Conservatives yet, you probably never will. This means the party has run out of Tories, but anyone can see that Labour defectors are fertile territory.
Policies on tax avoidance, improving the NHS and government sponsored job creation would help put UKIP into real contention in Labour heartlands. But it does mean members who joined in the days of the flat tax policy might feel their leadership has sold out.