Today is voting day for the European Elections and, if the polls are right UKIP might top the UK poll.
I’m mystified by this.
I get people wanting to register a protest vote against the main political parties. Before they became a party of government this often worked to the Liberal Democrats' advantage. But why UKIP and not, say, the Green party whose manifesto really is different to most mainstream parties? Instead, people are going to protest against the political establishment and big business by voting for a party whose leader is a public school educated, former city commodities trader who has been a professional politician since the 1990’s and whose election poster campaign was funded by a £1.5m donation from a generous multi millionaire.
I understand the desire to question our place in the European Union, to seek a substantial renegotiation or even leave; though the debate in the UK might be helped if we realised that there are voices in most European countries looking for structural reform and that this doesn't have to be a UK v Rest of Europe issue. There are debates to be had about the place of nation states, the relationships between them and how these best work for peace, prosperity and justice but a sizeable vote for UKIP will make renegotiation or withdrawal less likely. As their former deputy leader put it, "They can't deliver. They say a lot of the right things, but it is all talk."
UKIP’s foreign policy seems to be: shut the world out. One former leader of UKIP’s youth wing suggested it is a “form of racist populism”. Certainly, their candidates have managed to make a number of apparently racist and xenophobic remarks in recent weeks. The idea of controlling migration is not new, many countries seek to do so and there are a spread of opinions about the levels of migration that are economically beneficial for the UK, the importance of being a welcoming country to those fleeing persecution and so on. But, singling out particular groups, in the negative way Nigel Farage has done, is racism.
Their broader policy platform is inconsistent and even their leader seems to believe their 2010 manifesto is "obvious nonsense". They were in favour of cutting taxes though they have distanced themselves from their earlier policy of having one 31% tax rate and focused some new policies on areas more likely to appeal to disaffected working class labour voters. UKIP is a single issue campaigning organisation with no idea of how to bring about its ends but which creates attention though vacuous claims and media stunts.
However, Euro elections are one area where we can look at UKIP’s track record rather than the rhetoric. MEP’s get paid large sums (over £80,000 a year, plus allowances and expenses) to represent their constituencies. Yet UKIP come bottom of a league table for attendance; in short their MEP’s don’t turn up to more than a third of the votes, far more than their Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat equivalents. They also have a bizarre voting record, one example cited in the media is a recent vote seeking to confront the illegal trade in ivory where 14 of 671 votes were against and 6 of those 14 were UKIP members. You may think the European parliament is a waste of time and money but if you stand for election to it, at least do the voters the decency of doing the job they elected you for.
Whatever your political views, even if you think all I've written above is drivel, go and vote. There's no point complaining about the result if you don't.