Nick Mutch argues that the party needs to be recognised as an increasingly powerful political force.

It is still considered slightly unacceptable to admit any sympathy for UKIP among polite company. However much we may wish to dismiss them as a fringe right wing party, it is time to give up childish gestures such as the NUS’s vacuous “opposition to UKIP” and treat them as a serious and respectable political force, however much you may disagree with their views.

The recent debates between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg were a watershed in UKIP’s history. The public could see that its leader was someone capable of eloquence, intellectual rigor and who could hold his own with the most experienced of Westminster career politicians. At the very least, it showed him as unafriad of publicly defending his views. The party is also making a concerted effort to clear itself of its peripheries. Fringe parties are often forced to recruit from the fringes, and it is to their credit that they have attempted to cleanse the party of its ugliest elements. The embarrassment of Godfrey Bloom was gotten rid of and the UKIP councillor who blamed Britain’s floods on gay marriage was expelled. We must admit that UKIP’s consistent and principled opposition to the EU has struck a nerve in a section of the UK public concerned not just with immigration, but also with the European Union’s jeapordization of British autonomy. UKIP’s point is not a simplistic platform of “anti-immigration”, although it must be admitted they do pander to the belief that immigration is a job stealing racket. It is that Britain should determine its own immigration policy rather than merely accept European dictates.

Farage has frequently been accused of xenophobic motivation for his opposition to unlimited immigration from the EU. But we should remember if a country is a member of the EU, their immigration rules must explicitly prejudice people based on their nationality. As Farage has said, why should the UK give automatic residency to those from Europe (an overwhelmingly white continent), but not to potentially far more skilled people from India, China, New Zealand or the rest of the world, which is much more culturally diverse? Illustrating this is the fact that Farage was the first major party leader to advocate allowing refugees fleeing the violence in Syria, making the sensible distinction between economic migrants and genuine refugees.

There is so much in UKIP to find issue with. Its record on support for Equal Marriage is very poor. Its economic policy is pure Thatcherite neoliberalism, much to the dismay of anyone who would vote UKIP as a “protest vote” against the “mainstream status quo.” Little discussed but also ominous is the prevalence of climate deniers in its ranks. But the only way to defeat UKIP is to acknowledge their strength, rather than dismiss them outright, lest we find ourselves on the same side-lines they once inhabited. The Left forgets this lesson at its peril.

 

Alice King argues that UKIP remains on the political fringe and cannot be taken seriously.

A recent poll has indicated that UKIP may receive as much as 20% of the UK’s votes in the European elections, and has, in turn, been sensationalised by gleeful right wing tabloids. The alleged step up in support comes in the wake of Maria Miller’s expenses scandal and the “week of sleaze” in Westminster, entailing multiple allegations of sexual assault in parliament. Both of these saw the Lib Dems and the Conservatives take a hit in the poll, with UKIP gaining considerable support.

Some publications have decreed that British citizens are coming round to the party’s far right views, as if it is some kind of revelation, as opposed to a simple reaction to losing a little faith in their government in the wake of two big scandals. In fact, the truth of the matter is that any scandal immediately damages the popularity of the government in power, and that some of their votes  must go elsewhere. Both Miller’s expenses and the Westminster scandal can only reflect badly upon the Tories and Lib Dems, meaning that Labour and UKIP are unlikely to suffer. With one third of Conservative voters in 2010 currently claiming they will now vote UKIP, it’s easy to predict where disgruntled Tory votes will defect to – so while this poll may have shown an increase in support for UKIP, it doesn’t mean that the party has gained said support on its own merit.

I would go as far as to say that UKIP havw given us no reason to take them seriously. Godfrey Bloom last year referred to countries receiving aid from the UK as “Bongo Bongo Land”, slating the “Ray Bans” and “luxury apartments” that he was so sure the money was being spent on. The new year harboured little improvement for the reputation of the party when councillor David Silvester claimed the onslaught of floods was caused by the legalisation of gay marriage. While the majority of the country welcomed in the equal marriage bill in March, yet another UKIP councillor, Donna Edmunds, denounced “iron fist” equality laws that were being put into place. With all the issues that the country faces, surely UKIP can find something more important to worry about than “iron fist” equality.

As one Daily Mail commenter said, “I don’t care if they’re nutters – at least they’re our nutters…” If this is the best reasoning to vote UKIP, as it is the most comprehensive argument amongst the other comments on the website, then there’s no reason to consider them a veritable force in British politics. I personally would be more inclined to vote for them on the grounds that the backlash to Silvester’s weather blunders brought the ever-catchy “It’s Raining Men” back into UK charts after a 30 year absence. However, other recent polls have given no indication of similar support and show UKIP remaining firmly behind the Tories and Labour. Considering UKIP have some of the worst attendance rates for their current MEPs, it’s almost as if they’re not even taking themselves seriously. So ultimately, it’s hard to consider Nigel Farage’s party a respectable force within UK politics.