You’re surprised the way this country voted? Me too. I thought the public would give the Tories a mandate for getting on with a clean Brexit and return them with a comfy majority. Totally wrong. And I was shocked by the way that UKIP were annihilated. I was prepared for a big drop in support, but never guessed beforehand how much of our vote would evaporate.
Here are some reflections on the most unpredictable General Election result in my lifetime.
The Tories sabotaged themselves. As I was finishing primary school in 1983, the Labour Party produced a General Election manifesto known as ‘the longest suicide note in history’. The Magic May Manifesto rivalled it. Solid Tory votes disappeared. The tax-demented, triple-locked pensioners gave the craggy-faced PM one big arthritic finger. Why? It transpired Genius May formulated policy with virtually no internal party consultation or consensus, and presented it to the public from her secret manifesto box like an ebola virus. “Nothing has changed” she pleaded, trying to explain a hasty election U-turn on the ‘Dementia Tax’. Dear oh dear. Her demeanour through her campaign was awkward and wooden. Zero charm or charisma. Everything strictly by the numbers. Jeremy Corbyn on the other hand came off looking warm and likeable and eager to engage with people. May’s chronic inability to answer a direct question was so obvious it was embarrassing. It was retreat after retreat to default soundbite and lines of evasion.
Very bad night for the Tories. Calamity for UKIP. I was relieved when Paul Nuttall resigned. He did a good job in the latter part of the campaign, losing the apologetic air and handling hostile interviews well, but the months leading up to that were dire. He was clearly a man who never wanted to be leader. I think he felt duty-bound to step up to the plate in the absence of anyone else. Nuttall was the loyal and competent second-in-command, but lacked the charisma for leadership and the top-drawer skills to dominate TV debates. Following Farage was not an easy job. He promised reform, but given the anodyne centrists he surrounded himself with; Paul Oakden, Patrick O’Flynn, Suzanne Evans, Steve Crowther, Lisa Duffy and Peter Reeve – all people who tried to make UKIP ‘respectable’, the fools. The political centre-ground is stuffed full of social democrats splitting hairs on public spending. For God’s sake, UKIP grew because it spoke truth to power, not cringed in apology when someone said something controversial. Dull manifestos like the last two don’t win votes.
His successor? I want a fresh face. I hope it’s not a comebacking Nigel Farage. Farage still bestrides UKIP like a colossus, but if the party is to re-grow, it has to move away from the past, including its most successful leader. It needs a new vision, new policies, a new leader and new brand. Re-arranging the furniture won’t cut it this time.
The future options:
- going after the Labour vote in the northern and Midlands heartlands – doesn’t appeal to my brand of politics (economic liberalism and ending the welfare state) but probably a sound strategy in light of any Brexit backslide
- Being the party that tackles Islamisation and Islamic Jihad – to me, UKIP is the party of leaving the EU. Always was and always will be. That’s why I joined. Let the issues of this option be tackled by a new grassroots organisation without UKIP’s baggage
- Reclaiming discontented Tory votes – likely on the back of a Brexit backslide
I’d vote for having UKIP continue the rest of its possibly short existence as the “guard dogs of Brexit” (quoting Paul Nuttall) and either exit stage left once that goal has been accomplished, or grow again if Theresa Maybe backslides.