The past couple of weeks have been a rather mixed bag for the United Kingdom Independence Party, purchase better known as UKIP. While there is still much to smile about for their charismatic leader Nigel Farage, recent developments on in the European Parliament could spell trouble for the Eurosceptic party.
On the positive front, on October the 9th the party won its first seat in the House of Commons after Douglas Carswell, a recent defection from the Conservative Party, managed to reclaim his seat in Clacton, having resignied it to stand again for UKIP. This added to the three seats the party already had in the House of Lords and the many seats it holds both in local government and the European Parliament. This will presumably be increased again next month after Mark Reckless, rebellious and outspoken Tory MP for Rochester and Strood, announced that he too would be stepping down from the Conservatives to contest a by-election in his home constituency for UKIP, citing that he had promised his voters that he would fight for the UK leaving the EU and he did not feel that this was achievable as part of the Conservatives. Should Mr. Reckless be successful, we will have to wait to see if more MPs will jump ship to UKIP.
More good news for UKIP came last Monday when it was announced that ITV would be featuring Farage in their leaders’ debate for next year’s elections. This received a lot of criticism from other groups in the House of Commons, not least from the Green Party who felt that it was wrong that they were excluded from the debate, despite having as many MPs as UKIP at the time of the announcement and having more MEPs than the Liberal Democrats, who are to feature in two debates. Prime Minister David Cameron himself noted that it was odd that the Greens weren’t invited, presumably hoping that the Greens would be able to take disaffected Labour and Lib Dem votes in the same way that UKIP have taken votes of disaffected members of Cameron’s Conservatives.
However the question of why UKIP are involved and not the Green Party has a lot to do with good media strategy and control from Farage. As noted by Willard Foxton of the New Statesmen, what hurts the Greens is their lack of ability to work the media, noting that UKIP supporters and politicians have been found to be “unfailing polite, pleasant and responsive to the TV staff they deal with. Talking to people in TV about booking the Greens, they are much less complimentary. ‘Difficult’, ‘rude’ and ‘unreliable’ were common words used to describe some of the key people in the Green media operation. The current leader, Natalie Bennett, is excoriated as that most fatal of TV words: ‘dull’”. This issue around UKIP is an issue of the modern age; they have a charismatic leader who feeds the 24-hour news cycle. With the modernisation of politics, more focus has been put on the party leader’s ability to get the message across rather than the party’s, something which Farage is seen as a master of.
However it may not all be rosy for UKIP, as they are now facing a crisis that stands to lose them over a million pounds per annum, after their European Parliamentary party, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, collapsed following the resignation of Latvian MEP Iveta Grigule. Farage has claimed that pressure was put on Grigule to stand down in order to be given the lead role in a delegation to Kazakhstan. With Grigule gone, the party no longer had the requisite amount of members from different countries to receive EU funding. This is a particularly big blow to UKIP as they made up half of the MEPs for the group, and hence received half the funding. Hence, UKIP will need to up their game at home to ensure they get enough MPs to cover for the massive loses abroad.
*update* Since the release of this article, UKIP’s group within the European Parliament has been brought back, owing to new support from Polish MEP Robert Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz. However this has brought brand new controversy as Mr. Iwaszkiewicz has had a history of making what can at best be described as questionable statements, such as stating that domestic abuse would “help bring many wives back down to earth”. Jorun Korwin-Mikke, the leader of Iwaszkiewicz’s party the Congress of New Right, has previously stated that women should not have the right to vote, that Adolf Hitler was not aware of the Holocaust and believes that democracy should be scrapped and replaced with a monarchy. He has also been accused of making racist statements in the European Parliament.