Why economics is UKIP's Achilles' heel
I’ll admit off the bat that the article that follows is an odd one: I’m about to offer a political party advice that I hope to God they ignore. Nigel Farage and UKIP have been in the headlines a great deal of late, from the Guardian discussing Nigel Farage's saloon bar insurgency to the Telegraph publishing Farage’s declaration that UKIP could have its first MP within months.
So the question is, is UKIP really months away from having parliamentary representation in the House of Commons, as their leader suggests? And what about the 2015 general election? If they get anywhere near the 15 to 17 per cent they’re polling at the moment they could even hope to gain a plurality of seats and establish themselves as a true parliamentary party in the Commons.
However, my guess is that they won’t actually poll much higher than five per cent and will not gain a single seat in the Commons in 2015 or manage to capture one in a by-election before then. And the reason, in my view, is simple: their economic policy is terrible. And I don’t mean that in a whiny, leftie, banner-waving sort of a way, but terrible in that it will stop them reaching a whole section of the electorate who might plump for them otherwise.
There are other reasons why UKIP will run into problems during the run up to the next general election, such as the lack of party discipline perfectly exemplified by the rather unfortunate Anna-Marie Crampton episode. But controversies come and go and mostly wash over the public these days. Money is what still matters to people.
Let’s quickly look at what UKIP economic policy is exactly. In their 2010 manifesto Nigel and his crew said that if they won a majority in the House of Commons they would eliminate progressive tax codes and replace them with a flat tax of 31 per cent to kick in on all personal income over £11,500. They would get public spending down to pre-1997 levels by eliminating two million jobs in the public sector. One million of these jobs would supposedly be replaced by manufacturing work (they have a vague plan that isn’t fleshed out in the manifesto around “stimulating public and private spending in Britain’s manufacturing base”).
The other million receiving their P45s from the public purse would go on to find jobs in the private sector “created as a result of lower personal taxes and reduced business taxation and regulation”. UKIP have bought into the economics of the far right of the Conservative party, the Tories at their most nakedly neo-liberal. And my thesis is that this is the key thing that holds them back as a more potent electoral force.
For a party that is populist on almost everything, it is odd that they have cleaved to an economic policy that is so electoral poisonous. I’m not suggesting a wholesale move to the left; just having an economic policy that was in line roughly with where the Tories are at the moment would suffice. UKIP would still be the most economically right wing party by far, but not so far to the right as to be fatal to their chances of gaining a seat or two.
UKIP came second in the Eastleigh by-election, polling just shy of 28 per cent. I was there on the ground and was amazed at how much of their vote seemed to be coming from working and lower middle class voters, eurosceptic and socially conservative people, many of whom will have voted Labour at some point in the near past.
But by-elections are more likely to feature protest votes than general elections and this group, I think, will not vote UKIP in sufficient numbers in 2015. Because they will never want 31 per cent flat tax or two million job losses in the public sector, to be replaced by discredited voodoo economics from the 1980’s. In summary, if UKIP moved their economic policy to the left, not too far to the left as I mentioned before, just away from the supply side tosh, they could become a major electoral force and convert those 15 to 17 per cent poll numbers into actual votes on the ground.
Thankfully for all Britons, they won’t. They may get enough Conservative voters to pick them so as to lead to a sort of “accidental” Labour majority by splitting the right vote, but I don’t even think they’ll pull that much off. They’ll almost unquestionably be the largest party in the 2014 European elections. That will most likely be their high water mark.