What price Nigel Farage and UKIP? Is he a charlatan or just a canny salesman trading on fear and prejudice?
“Would You Buy A Used War From This Man?”, published in 1972, was the lead cartoon in an American anthology of political humour from National Lampoon magazine. “This Man” was Richard Nixon, US President 1969-74, and the “War” was the Vietnam War, which lasted from 1955 to 1975.
The title was a variant on “Would you buy a used car from this man?” meaning that it was obvious from the person’s face that he was not someone you could trust. A Democrat poster campaign in the 1960 Presidential election had previously juxtaposed the slogan with a photo of Nixon, who later lost the election to Kennedy.
The slogan has been done to death, but every once in a while a new face crops up that fits the bill. This is the case in the United Kingdom where the political limelight is being sought by Nigel Farage, whose UK Independence Party (UKIP) is offering what in its opinion is a good deal for British voters: dump the European Union and polish up the tarnished “great” in Great Britain.
UKIP is so sure of its recent successes in European and local council elections that it intends to target at least 20 parliamentary seats at the next general election. The main planks of its policy are to take the United Kingdom out of Europe; to curb immigration and immigrants’ social entitlements; to scrap green taxes and wind turbine subsidies; and remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.
Noting UKIP’s success in the European elections compared to other British political parties, a recent article in the New Statesman (26 May 2014) said that a good dose of perspective is needed. “UKIP came top, yes, but with 27.5% – and in an election in which turnout was a derisory 35%… This ‘political earthquake’ may yet do no more than mildly shake the cutlery. If Nigel Farage is serious about getting UKIP seats at the next general election, he will soon have to upset a lot of prominent party personnel. The party lacks the resources to target more than a dozen seats in 2015.”
Farage will have to do much more than upset a few people. He will have to convince a sizeable part of the British population that he has the ability to steer the country into the uncharted waters of independence from the European Union (EU). Eurosceptics think Britain can leave the EU and still have access to its markets. But to do so, Britain will have to sign up to EU rules. However, trade is just one issue. There are geopolitical considerations, including the UK’s infamous “special relationship” with the USA; financial capital and banking regulations; international business agreements; and last but not least, the UK’s relationships with other European nations.
Interestingly, the Scottish National Party’s plans to hold a referendum on the independence of Scotland from the United Kingdom impact its EU membership. Should a majority vote for independence, it will be the first time the EU has to deal with the breakup of an existing member state. There are no clear agreements to cover such a scenario. The question arises whether one state is a successor (the UK) and one a new applicant (Scotland) or whether both are new states and eligible to be (re)admitted. But that’s another story.
Farage will have to grapple with all these issues and he may not be the best equipped leader to do so. All of which begs the question of who is pulling the strings? Who are the shadowy people advising him and who will occupy key government posts if UKIP were ever to win a General Election?
In reality, Farage may not be setting his sights so high. UKIP can disrupt proceedings from within the House of Commons and the European Parliament. He can be a constant thorn in the side of parliamentary procedure backed up by the antics of other populist and suspect right-wing political groups. Yet still the question remains: Would you buy a used car from this man?