‘To Do God, or not to Do God’, and UKIP’s Fortunes
Nigel Farage’s reputation is proving, so The Huffington Post has observed, to have the non-stick qualities of Teflon. However xenophobic, eccentric or clown-like members of his party show themselves to be, UKIP are still set to win big in the forthcoming European elections.
In policy terms it is, however, very hard to account for the popularity of this fringe party. UKIP’s principle purpose has been to achieve a referendum on British membership of the European Union which David Cameron (a Conservative) has committed his party to setting up (if they win the next election). The Prime Minister has even said that he will resign if such a government fails to deliver this promise. UKIP are barely in a position to get a single member into the House of Commons, let alone obtain a referendum. In policy terms (with a very limited platform) they have been a roaring success, but they now have little they can offer the electorate beyond a culturally modulated ‘outlook’.
Why, then, should UKIP be attracting support from a very diverse range of voters? In the first place, Farage has, unlike any other politician with a media profile, successfully presented himself as a man of the people. He drinks and smokes, and both of these are great social levellers. Cameron, Clegg and Milliband are by contrast aloof, and their carefully crafted sound-bites – too honed, refined and fussy –, really do alienate ordinary people. UKIP’s faithful appear by contrast to be normal folk who sometimes fail to be careful about what they say on Twitter. Racist outbursts are regrettable, but hardly in the same league for ordinary people as MPs’ fraudulent expenses claims running to tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is actually easier to relate to the UKIPers, regardless of whether one agrees with them about foreigners and the causes of bad weather.
The ‘fussy-ness’ of Westminster politicians has been particularly apparent in the way the party leaders have been handling the question of God. Cameron is the least unwilling to ‘do God’, but even he – the heir to Blair – has failed to shake off the utilitarian baggage of such a bureaucratic phrase. Farage does not ‘do God’ as Cameron does. He is an atheist, but affirms calmly that Christianity and Anglicanism are central to national identity. The difference is subtle, but also vital. Whether most British people are believers or not is in fact in some ways irrelevant to whether or not Christianity is a part of British identity. The apparent failure of professional politicians in the main three parties to grasp this has caused them to appear out of touch, ideological and, curiously, sanctimonious.
However embarrassing the views of some UKIPers, the party has made a real appeal to a wide cross-section of society. This should be seen in the Westminster village as a salutary warning. UKIP’s success, based – many would say – entirely on style rather than political substance, is largely down to the villagers’ failings.