Head to Head: UKIP’s relevance post-Brexit

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Following the EU referendum result and the subsequent triggering of Article 50, what is the point of UKIP? Richard Wood argues that the party is now an irrelevance. However, Edward Bourke believes the party still has a lot to offer British Politics. But what do you think? Read both arguments  and vote in our poll.

Richard Wood: UKIP are now an irrelevance

UKIP is over. That’s not to say the party will disband anytime soon, but it is unlikely to once again achieve electoral success on the same level it has had in the last few years. The party may have only returned one MP in 2015 – although that hasn’t lasted long – but the party surpassed the Liberal democrats in terms of votes putting them on an impressive 13% of the vote. However, since then the political landscape has shifted. The UK voted to leave the EU, Nigel Farage stepped down as leader and Theresa May is pursuing a hard, UKIP-style Brexit. Two years ago UKIP was on the verge of major success. In one sense they did succeed: the UK is leaving the EU, but as a party they are finished.

Theresa May and hard Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May is doing her best to channel UKIP by going for a hard Brexit and ensuring the UK leaves the single market. UKIP would have had a foot to stand on if the Conservatives had pushed for a softer Brexit as UKIP could demand a much more extreme departure from the EU, but now UKIP has very little room to manoeuvre, limiting the party’s ability to retain its voters who previously voted Conservative. UKIP do have the opportunity to transform into something different once Brexit is complete but without a clear alternate path there is limited hope for them as May’s Conservatives will likely sweep up many of their voters. There is simply no place for UKIP in the new age of Brexit and Theresa May’s Tories.

The party is falling apart

In addition to this, the party is quite literally falling apart. Donor Aaron Banks has threatened to start a rival UKIP 2.0, Douglas Carswell MP is set to leave the party, giving them no voice in the House of Commons at all, and UKIP Wales is struggling despite its impressive gains last May. The Welsh ex-chairman has exited the party, claiming it is “unravelling” and the former UKIP in Wales leader Nathan Gill still sits as an independent AM in the Welsh Assembly. As well as all this, with the UK leaving the EU, UKIP will lose all its MEP, which make up a large contingent of UKIP representatives. In fairness, the party will still have AMs and local councillors but the loss of a platform of MEPs will weaken the party.

Furthermore, as if all that were not enough, the party’s membership numbers have been falling, weakening their base and making the phrase ‘leaving a sinking ship’ come to mind. Without many of its key players and continuous infighting, the party has no future in British politics.

Other signs

In addition to all this, there are other clear signs that the party is going anywhere but up. The Liberal Democrats are creeping back up in the polls, with some even putting them around the same level as UKIP, suggesting that Tim Farron’s party could be on its way to reclaiming its usual third-party status. As well as this, Nigel Farage no longer stands tall at the party’s helm. It is undeniable that UKIP’s success has been linked to Nigel Farage. True, the party does have other capable figures, but the Stoke by-election showed us just how Paul Nuttall is affected by issues in a way that Nigel Farage just wasn’t. Without Farage as leader, the party will struggle further.

UKIP could eventually transform and become something entirely different – that may well be the only way it survives – but in its current form UKIP is cornered by May’s Conservatives, who are steering the country in a hard Brexit direction. Nuttall’s party is flailing in a sea of controversy while its passengers fight each other and jump ship, a ship where its captain Farage is nowhere to be seen.

The party won on the EU, but the UKIP as we know it is only going in one direction. Down. UKIP’s time in the spotlight is over.

Edward Bourke: UKIP remain relevant today

Although it has suffered some set backs in recent weeks, UKIP is of course, still relevant. This is true for several reasons.

Britain hasn’t left the EU yet: Whilst the Government has made great strides in the arena of Brexit, we still have a long way to go, and people aren’t entirely confident.

Recent YouGov polling reveals that 37% of people think that the government is doing badly, with regard to Brexit negotiations, and 35% of people feel that Brexit is not progressing quickly enough. This shows us that we still need a group, with the best Brexit expertise, to push the process along. With the VoteLeave camp led by Boris Johnson, desalinating back into their respective parties, this leaves only one option – UKIP – a party that remains as committed to the Brexit it campaigned for as it was during the referendum.

Many will argue that because UKIP is no longer represented in the House of Commons, it is no longer able to action real influence and help with Brexit. This is incorrect. The loss of Douglas Carswell makes no tangible difference to UKIP’s influence, and it may indeed strengthen it.

UKIP and especially Nigel Farage have fought against the “establishment” since it was founded. As UKIP grew more and more popular, they had the increasing risk of becoming the “establishment”. The addition of Douglas Carswell, a man who has spent the vast majority of his adult life as a politician meant that UKIP was drifting ever closer to the political. Establishment. However, with Douglas Carswell’s resignation, UKIP is able to return to its grassroots supporters with a clear conscience, being in no way connected to the political establishment. This is, in fact, a boost for UKIP’s influence, and will help them increase the action they are able to drive, through an increasingly pure populist message.

Another example of why the loss of Douglas Carswell does not affect the influence of UKIP is that he did not increase their influence in the first place. Put it this way, if the government decides on a proposal, and party loyalty is largely intact, it would still be impossible for the addition of a single extra vote against, to defeat a proposed bill.

So, how can they help? This is where it is important to remember the key principle of popular sovereignty – the government is for the people, by the people. As we saw during the referendum campaign, UKIP’s great skill has been the ability to drive ordinary, everyday people to action. They mobilised millions during the Brexit campaign, and that is an ability that will prove extremely useful for the future.

UKIP isn’t a one-trick pony

Although clearly focused on the UK’s exit from the European Union, UKIP is by no means a one trick pony. The summary of the 2015 manifesto lists 25 topics and over 150 sub-points. These range from the economy to care for the elderly. This shows that UKIP is much more than a one-trick pony, and this is expected to be reinforced in September when the UKIP rebranding is unveiled at their annual conference in Torquay. The branding is expected to target 18 – 30-year-olds and will make UKIP even more relevant.

Populism isn’t dead

UKIP is widely considered to be the largest populist party in the UK, populism is far from dead and is certainly deserving of a place in our modern society. Since 2016 we have seen Donald Trump’s landslide election win (referencing electoral college votes), the huge swing to Geert Wilders, whose young PVV came second in the recent Dutch elections. Not only this, but we are continuing to see the rise of populism worldwide. For example, France’s Marine Le Pen continues to lead opinion polling and is on track to win the first Presidential round. This means that a truly populist party is more relevant than ever in UK politics, providing not only a conduit for increased international relations, as we have seen in the case of Nigel Farage and President Trump, but also offering voters an alternative to more mainstream “establishment” parties.

Competition is good (and vital to democracy)

Another reason UKIP is still so relevant, and important is the key principle of democratic competition. A nation that fails to encourage democratic competition eventually falls into autocracy.

The primary principle behind democratic competition is that of representative democracy. In our society, we believe that all British people have the right to have their views represented in a public forum, and this is why it is vital that we have a variety of political parties for people to chose from. Whilst it is true that the vast majority of people vote for the Conservatives or Labour – it is important that we do not allow this country to subject those not aligned with mainstream parties to the tyranny of the majority. The only way to do this is to encourage a mixture of views and representative groups (both inside and outside of parliament) within the wider community – UKIP is one of the most important of these. Many voters feel that both major parties are made up of too many “career politicians”, and they are offered an alternative in UKIP, a way to voice their differing views, views that are often seen as too controversial or alternative for the major parties.

Fighting political apathy

Finally (and perhaps most importantly!), UKIP, offers an alternative platform spanning all major areas of policy, they are able to empower and give a voice to those that have previously been disenchanted by politics. Just as President Trump did in the United States, UKIP has been able to encourage those who felt that politics was not for them and that they did not have access to what has been seen, historically, as an exclusive world for those with the right connections. Through their straight-talking nature and empowerment of working class people (including many of their candidates), UKIP has given people the ability to feel comfortable around politics, and get involved in the ever-growing conversation. However, as we all know, there is still a lot of work to be done in tackling political apathy, and with UKIP’s new focus on the younger generation, and continued populist outlook, they maintain their relevancy through helping to combat the uninterested groups who still feel today that politics is not an arena in which they are welcome. There is a place for everyone in politics, and everyone deserves a voice – UKIP provides that for millions of people, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s relevancy!

In conclusion remember this saying “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – whether you agree with UKIP or not, they are the voice for millions, are empowering those who were previously disenchanted by politics, and are helping us to build a stronger democracy. So, is UKIP still relevant? – it certainly seems like it to me!

What do you think: vote in our poll

Image rights: Euro Realist Newsletter @ Flickr

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