The UKIP Shudder: The Clowns are Sent in

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) made a bold declaration: “Send in the clowns!”

Nigel_Farage_MEP_1,_Strasbourg_-_Diliff

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) since 2010. Credit: Wikipedia

Much of this was occasioned by comments that UKIP are huggers of the lunatic fringe, inhabitants of some distant Pluto of confused consciousness. According to Ken Clarke, Ukip was merely “a collection of clowns or indignant angry people.”

In terms of political realities, the gains made by the party suggest that there is something else other than lunacy at play here.  Anger can be a strong and sometimes dangerous catalyst for change.

All the fuss centers around the performance of the party in the latest local elections. A formidable number of 139 members find themselves in local shire councils. No new party has had such a surge since the Second World War. The newbies are themselves taken aback, made political representatives overnight by a note in the electorate that they detected but scarce believed they could win over.

The father and son victors – Dean and Robert Hunter-Clarke are a case in point. Other family combinations have also come to the fore. It seems that the entire Ransome family, to name but one, ran.

The UKIPs also boast a smattering of defectors from various parties, many from the Tories, a smattering from the Lib Dems, a smidgen from Labour. The charges of lunacy tend to stick to those wearing Jimmy Savile masks, male escorts who also worked for the police and a host of other colorful numbers.

But other characters include the retired teacher Philip Fawkes, distant relative of Guy Fawkes and now representing Hampshire’s South Waterside ward. Or Mark Staplehurst of Hampshire county council, a person who expressed with little reservation on Facebook (as is the nature of that sort of thing) that he wished someone would slit Gerry Adams’ throat.

This did not prevent Marina Hyde of The Guardian from having a pint with Farage, though she conceded she would not have done so with the other members of the party. “But a pint and a fag with Farage, and probably a packet of salt and vinegar crisps, which I’d tear down the seam and spread out on the table while Nigel told some story against himself” (Guardian, May 3). The same could not be said about the likes of Nicholas Clegg, Edward Miliband and David Cameron. They were “about as convivial as hemorrhoids.”

The point Hyde makes is worth noting: the Cleggs, the Camerons and the Milibands have been kitted out with delusions they believe in. While Farage is the small man of politics, his appeal arises because of that very fact. He can laugh while the others can’t, grimly holding on to their positions of minimal difference.

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Farage’s own comments said it all. Always confident to the point of caricature, Farage has always sounded like a bench-warmer for the asylum, his optimism the sort you would want to take into battle. And into battle he went with it. With some bafflement he had to claim that he did not know what was going on, puzzled by the sheer deluge of votes at his end.

UKIP channels instinctive suspicion under the rubric of “common sense.” Like any challenging party that assumes the role of contrarian and populist, it is anti-political in its politics. The website of the party features statements by candidates and members such as “A common sense approach to immigration.”

Indians are pictured, Bulgarians and Romanians distinctly not. Petitions can be signed – “No More Bailouts” to bolster the ailing Euro, a “Referendum on the EU” and a campaign regarding the Common Fisheries Policy and quotas for recreational fishing.

It cherishes ideas of escape and withdrawal – withdrawal from Europe and disengagement being one of their strongest messages. This can hardly be surprising in the context of Europe’s doldrums, an economically stagnant pool that is proving more repellent than enchanting. Then come the grocery lists that are vital to any local councillor – debates about schools, about the state of infrastructure.

The traditional parties have been caught in the wave. The disgust with their stance (or in some cases, non-stance) is palpable. Business Secretary Vince Cable has made the obvious point that “insulting” or “ignoring” UKIP was simply not sensible policy.

A good showing by UKIP in the European elections will add more to the already full plate of troubles Prime Minister Cameron has. The Tory Eurosceptics will be beating at his door to bring the referendum on EU membership forward. Farage himself has made musings about possible joint Tory/UKIP cooperation, though that “bar” as he put it himself, remains Cameron.

And while the new councillors will eventually slide into political banality in the manner of hemorrhoid conviviality, they are the winners of the moment, the deodorizers coming through and freshening up the scene.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com. Read other articles by Binoy.