For years, and with some justification, Ukip has been characterised as the party of the grumpy.
Not especially angry, moderately well off, mainly living in the South and generally a bit older. But grumpy. Grumpy about change, grumpy about modernity, grumpy about multiculturalism. And, most of all, grumpy about Europe.
But that characterisation is no longer as accurate because behind a cheery façade party leader Nigel Farage has repositioned it as a far more potent political force. No longer is Ukip the party reaching out to the grumpy – it has become the party reaching out to those who feel angry, poor and powerless to change their lot.
Ukip directly appealing to voters that both Labour and the Conservatives have tended to take for granted – because they have always tended to support the same party. And the party’s strength is no longer in prosperous areas such as the South-west but in coastal towns and deprived areas up and down the country where jobs are boring, badly paid and hard to come by and immigration is putting huge pressure on already stretched public services.
It explains why Ukip will win the by-election in Clacton (previously solid Tory) and give Labour a run for its money in Heywood and Middleton. It also explains why Mr Farage has chosen to fight the general election in Thanet (poor, white, working -class) and not Buckingham (affluent, grumpy) where he stood in 2010.
Everything at the party’s final conference before the 2015 election has been toned to this new position.
First came the policy announcements: a new VAT rate of 25 per cent – dubbed the WAG tax – on luxury goods including clothes, shoe, and cars that cost more than a certain amount; the forcing of criminals who have been in jail to move out of the communities where they committed their crime; a new offence of noise nuisance; taking people on the minimum wage out of income tax; and draconian restrictions on all types of immigration.
Next came the rhetoric: but, tellingly, Mr Farage’s keynote speech at Doncaster contained just one sentence about the European Union. Instead, he took the chance to launch a scathing attack on the complacency of both main parties who had ignored the concerns of working-class voters for decades – particularly over immigration – an area of policy that Ukip barely mentioned in the 2010 general election.
The current Tory-Labour establishment, he said, had failed millions and had nothing to say about their “thoughts, hopes or aspiration for the future”. He added: “This party (Ukip) is not about left and right ... this party is about right and wrong.”
Apart from Mr Farage, speaker after speaker used incendiary language to decry the child abuse scandal in Rotherham under Labour’s political leadership.
Ukip’s Yorkshire MEP, Jane Collins, even accused the Labour of “sacrificing the innocence of children” on the “alter of multiculturalism”.
But in contrast to the fire and brimstone from the platform the mood among delegates at Doncaster Racecourse was almost joyous.
The 2000-seat hall was full, not just during Mr Farage’s speech but for most of the others as well. A succession of speaker were given standing ovations. One delegate had even made a miniature closet – which when you opened the door revealed the slogan: “No closet racists in here”.
It felt a bit how you would imagine party conferences used to feel like before the lobbyists, corporate stalls and carefully crafted messages took over.
John Cook, from Manchester, said he had watched Ed Miliband’s speech at Labour’s Manchester conference on Tuesday and it had reinforced why he was in Ukip. “He said nothing about defence, nothing about immigration and nothing about the crap we’re in financially,” he said.
“He talks about everything else. He talks about his rambles on the heath: ‘My friends, my friends’. What a joke. This is a man who’s going to run your country? I’ll tell you – you’ll find there’s quite a few former Labour supporters here.”
It was a sentiment shared by countless others.
Tax, NHs and immigration: Ukip’s manifesto
- A new VAT “WAG tax” on shoes costing more than £200 and cars costing more than £50,000.
- Taking anyone working full time on the minimum wage out of tax altogether.
- Abolish all parking charges for hospital visits and ban all foreigners getting treatment on the NHS without paying.
- Forcing all criminals who have been in jail to move out of the communities where they committed their crime.
- Cut immigration to a maximum of 50,000 people a year.
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