George Bernard Shaw once said something along the lines that it is possible for a small and determined group of people to change the world. And that in fact, this was the only thing that ever did change the world. He was right, but that doesn’t take away from the courage and energy it requires to start a political party from scratch in a system that punishes third parties let alone non-existent ones.
UKIP was founded by an academic at the LSE, and for a time was the plaything of a faded jaded celebrity. It is now fronted by a charismatic and media savvy individual. But while he gets most of the attention I think it is remarkable how real and authentic a political movement it actually is. I first became aware of its existence not through the media but by seeing a group of people in a high street giving out leaflets and engaging in conversation with (reluctant) shoppers.
They have ideas that strike a chord with many people. The main policy is to get out of Europe. That is what it says on the tin after all. Europe is a good example of the kind of institutions that run the modern world, and it is not difficult to find fault with it. Who likes bureaucrats at the best of times, and foreign bureaucrats working in a way that is completely beyond scrutiny is just making a bad thing worse.
Against this behemoth UKIP creates a vision of a Britain that is independent and runs itself along the lines it always has. But this is not necessarily a backward looking or even inward looking viewpoint. Britain is a trading nation and is ready to do business across the globe. Getting away from Europe and its red tape will free it to do deals with whoever deals can be made with.
UKIP has managed to avoid getting caught in the trap of being anti-immigrant. It even manages to attract members from immigrant communities. It merely wants to manage immigration in a way that makes more sense. This might well mean encouraging Indian doctors and barring unskilled Bulgarians. This isn’t racist, it is pragmatic.
The UKIP leadership have taken full advantage of the opportunities the media have given them to promote their party, but it would be a mistake to think that the party is a media creation. UKIP holds conferences at which its members can and do debate policy and don’t always come up with the most media friendly angle. They also keep the leadership in line. The members want to keep the NHS much as it is, and that is the policy that has been adopted even if it means some leading UKIP figure’s recent statements on the matter now put him at odds with the party.
But although policies are important in politics, other things matter too. The thing that most encourages me to put my cross against the UKIP candidate is the kind of candidate they are producing. Although the party has attracted some members of the metropolitan elite into its ranks, most of them are people who would not otherwise have been anywhere near politics. They are motivated by a love of their country and are willing to stand up and do something about it. That has to be worthy of praise. The odds are stacked against them, but it would be good to see some people in the Commons who don’t feel that they are entitled to be there.