One of the biggest challenges confronting UKIP is the need to shift its’ centre of gravity from Brussels to the UK. If it is serious about being a long-term force in domestic politics that is interested in more than just leaving the European Union, this shift is imperative.
That is why the elections (note the plural) due next May are so important, for whilst the media will naturally fixate on the General Election, UKIP members must remember that many District and other local government seats will also be contested on the same day.
This is a great opportunity for UKIP to reinforce the stunning electoral achievements it experienced in May 2013 and May 2014, by firmly establishing a broader-based foundation in British domestic politics. Regardless of how many MPs UKIP manages to send to Westminster, if it is to become a meaningful and enduring influence in British society it must secure footholds and positions of responsibility in Councils all across the land.
That goal requires votes, more than the party has ever attracted before, and a key factor in persuading voters to grant UKIP their support is to demonstrate the Party’s credibility. Of course, one way to do that is to avoid the sort of outlandish comments that have previously undermined that credibility, and significant progress has been made in eradicating that problem. Another is to place UKIP representatives in the media who appear well informed, reasonable people, articulate, trustworthy and convincing. Here again, the past year has seen welcome progress in this regard.
A third area where UKIP’s credibility should be reinforced is for it to think carefully about some of the ‘mantras’ it has held and how they should be voiced as the responsibilities of holding political power become more realistic. If UKIP is to successfully appeal to a much wider electorate across the Country then its’ policies must be clearly plausible.
Take, for example, the topic of local referenda. Promoting referenda is a fundamental UKIP policy, indeed for some it is like an article of faith, but if it is not properly thought through (and routinely it is not) it will undermine UKIP’s credibility and damage the Party’s electoral prospects.
First, the insistence on ‘local’ ballots is rarely, if ever, accompanied by a definition of ‘local’. There are at least five definitions with political relevance, which one has UKIP in mind? Does that lack of precision matter? Yes, if it wishes to avoid an inappropriate insistence on a referendum that undermines the Party’s credibility.
Second, it would be illogical to insist that a nationally important issue was determined by a local vote. For instance, it would not be sensible to allow the residents of a small town near a naval submarine base to determine whether the UK has a nuclear deterrent. Nor does it make economic, social or democratic sense for the people of Dover to decide whether Great Britain should have a tunnel linking it to Europe.
It is a perverse appeal to democracy to argue that nationally strategic matters which affect all or vast chunks of the population should be decided upon by ‘local referenda’. Democratically, such matters should be excluded from local control. If businesses, and therefore workforces, up and down the UK would be impacted by something like a nationally important transport project, then they have a justifiable interest in its’ prospects. That interest is hardly ‘local’.
The underlying principal behind local referenda is a good one, and appropriately defined to meet actual circumstances is something UKIP should continue to advocate strongly. But it would be a major error to treat a belief in local ballots as a thoughtless mantra which is repeated regardless of the issue under consideration.
To avoid careless or inappropriate appeals to policies which undermine or damage UKIP’s credibility, it’s MEPs, spokespersons, county councillors and other elected members need to recognise that as the Party assumes more political power and responsibilities, the consequences of actually being able to implement policies need to be thought through.
As we await the welcome launch of UKIP’s Manifesto for next year’s elections, let us hope that the many policies within it are appealed to and applied in ways that are sensible, feasible and practical. Also, that they clearly demonstrate with compelling force that here is a Party which is credible and deserves your vote.
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