Nigel Farage is a tightropewalker with a pint of bitter in one hand. He and Ukip have to perform a difficult balancing act: they seek to become part of the establishment in Westminster, but their popularity rests on their being perceived as anti-establishment and rebellious; they enfranchise the little man.
If they succeed, it could cause British politics to lurch dangerously to the right, and allow their xenophobia to pass as reasonable and acceptable.
Ukip have been making moves to become a more credible party. They are making an effort to promote more minority candidates and to appeal to women, in an effort to avoid seeming racist or misogynist. They've also begun to move some of the more extreme Ukippers out of the public eye.
Godfrey Bloom, a longstanding Ukip MEP, member and donor best known for his “bongo bongo land” remarks, is one such extremist. Bloom has now resigned from Ukip after claiming that the party had become too “politically correct”.
Bloom represents the side of Ukip that is so awful it is funny. He is a man with a vast capacity for political gaffes. He threatens journalists, visits prostitutes and gives speeches in the European Parliament while seemingly inebriated. And even more alarmingly, he was once Farage's flatmate.
But Bloom's resignation should be a concern to anyone who doesn't like Ukip. The video of him in the European Parliament was featured on the Telegraph's website with the headline “A drunk Eurosceptic makes more sense than a sober federalist”.
So far this has been Ukip's rhetorical worth: they go too far so the more respectable, centrist right wing don't have to. This Telegraph article is a perfect example: “Alright, it's not elegant, and the reference to the Poles, Czechs and Latvians [...] is gratuitous," writes Daniel Hannan. "But Godders' essential point is right”. Hannan makes it seem like his objections – to immigration, to the EU – are reasonable in comparison with this more extreme position, allowing him to deny any extremism on his own part.
Who's next? Conservative MPs who could defect to Ukip
Who's next? Conservative MPs who could defect to Ukip
1/8 Chris Kelly
Won Dudley South with majority of 3,856 in 2010 but is standing down next May. Has been wooed by Ukip, which is targeting his seat, but insists he will not join Nigel Farage’s party. Has declined to say why he is leaving Parliament
2/8 Mark Pritchard
Former secretary of the influential Tory 1992 Committee. MP for The Wrekin. Majority 9,450. Photographed with Nigel Farage at an event recently but said it was just a “friendly photo"
3/8 Philip Hollobone
MP for Kettering. Majority 9, 904. He said in 2013: “So many constituencies are now marginal because Ukip is now providing a fourth dynamic into what has previously been a three-party dynamic. I think we could end up with a situation where in selected seats, where the Conservative candidate or member of Parliament is in favour of leaving the EU, they would endorse him in those seats"
4/8 David Nuttall
MP for Bury North. Majority 2,243. Outspoken right-winger. Has said it would be “beneficial” if the Tories and Ukip could agree a “common programme” in order to unite the right in British politics
5/8 Nadine Dorries
MP for Mid Bedfordshire. Majority 15,152. Lost Tory whip after appearing on ITV’s “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here,” but later reinstated. Has said her constituents some constituents feel a "huge amount of empathy with Ukip". Hinted at standing on a joint ticket but denied she will defect
6/8 Jacob Rees-Mogg
MP for Somerset North East. Majority 4,914. Independent-minded like Douglas Carswell. Has called for an electoral pact between Tories and Ukip. “There are many members of Ukip who are very close to the Conservative Party and there are many Conservatives to whom Ukip looks favourably,” he said in May
7/8 Gordon Henderson
MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Majority 12,383. Wants Britain to leave the EU and admits he has been “sounded out” by Ukip. But insists the party has “no principles,” saying: “I’d sooner lose than be a turncoat”
8/8 Peter Bone
MP for Wellingborough. Majority 11,787. Independent-minded backbencher who hates the Coalition. Has said: “Somehow the Conservatives and Ukip have got to work together and have some sort of [electoral] pact or accord”
And it's not just newspaper columnists: the Conservative party are using a very similar tactic right now - masking their lurch to the right with the refrain "But we're still not as extreme as those guys". From British sovereignty and the EU, to immigration and human rights, this effect of Ukip's more extreme position can be found on a range of issues issues.
If Ukip master using euphemism and politically correct language to couch their ideology and gain popularity, British political discourse will move even further to the right. After all, "we give too much aid money to bongo bongo land" and "I am concerned at the efficacy of foreign aid expenditure" both lead to cuts in the foreign aid budget, but politicians can say the second without seeming ridiculous or racist.
Fortunately, becoming more politically correct is dangerous to Ukip too. Much of their appeal is that they seem less “in thrall to the prevailing culture of political correctness” than mainstream politicians. Too much political correctness, too much euphemism, and they risk seeming indistinguishable from the establishment. However, if they don't have enough, then they will only remain on the political fringe.
So far they haven't got the balance right. When asked what kind of migrants a Ukip government would allow into the country, Farage said that it should be those “who do not have HIV”. He has not quite mastered political correctness yet.
But if he ever does, we must beware the threat of Ukip's ideology in an acceptable garb. We must call it out when we see, and we must present its counter-arguments: British political discourse needs voices prepared to speak out in favour of immigration and the EU, as well as the cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism that come with them.
Nigel Farage is a tightropewalker; we must hope he falls.Reuse content