Wednesday, 9 January 2013

UKIP's Growing Pains

Today's "#ollyshambles" as Twitter termed the defenestration of Young Independence's Chairman elect Olly Neville, comes on the back of a slew of embarrassing media coverage, including Winston Mackenzie's lurid comments on gay adoption and a local council candidate's remarks about abortion. Neville's sacking is especially embarrassing coming just days after Nigel Farage's comments about preferring a party of eccentrics to a party of the bland.

UKIP was obviously going to suffer some "blowback" after it's recent successes. Even without a series of own-goals, a spooked political class was always going to call in some favours from tame journalists who would go looking to dig up dirt on the party. Expect a great deal more to come. This is a big boys' game and it won't be pretty from here on in.

The party is now in perhaps the most crucial stage of it's development - that part where the it has to manage  the major structural and cultural change from, to use a corporate analogy, enthusiastic start-up to mature corporation. The perception of the party by the public, hitherto largely ignorant or indifferent to UKIP,  is currently crystallising. Once set hard, it will be very difficult to remould, so our enemies will spin every set-back ruthlessly in order to stymie our growth.

UKIP's "unique selling point" with the wider electorate is not gay marriage, or even the EU, but it's reputation for straight talking  and courage in a world of political class careerists, cynics and robots, too scared to talk out of line in case it may damage their careers. It is especially relevant to those voters over 40, who can dimly remember a different world: watching Farage or Nuttall go head to head against a member of the political class  is like watching a film in colour rather than black and white, and brings back  half-forgotten memories on  how colourful and passionate politics, and politicians, used to be prior to the rise of the political class.  Take that away, and the party becomes yet another bland, diet coke offerring of little interest.

Equally, the party can't really afford to have spokesmen whose views are plain outrageous or who seem to spend most of the time railing against party policy, making us look like ferrets fighting in a sack. Plainly, a balance must be struck.

Party management of the problem is complicated by two factors, Firstly, the rise of social media and the narcissism it tends to generate, means that party management have to develop a mind-set that anything they say or write may rapidly appear on the internet. Secondly, UKIP members tend, thankfully, to be people of strong conviction, and therefore not easily silenced. This is exacerbated by the younger membership containing many committed libertarians, whose personality type often tends towards the egotistical.

Perhaps a compromise should be struck, whereby people who are in a position to officially speak for the party are expected to promote the official line, but at the same time not expected to lie and go against deeply held personal convictions by stating they agree with something they don't. It shouldn't be too difficult to train spokesmen and women in how to handle such situations gracefully..."well personally it's not how I would want it, but the party generally believes this the right course for the following reasons...etc, etc."

A party full of people of strong convictions and passions - libertarians, conservatives and patriots - is always going to generate a certain level of embarrassment and furore, but then so does real life. In that sense UKIP are unique in that it treats the British public as adults, and asks to be judged by the same standards. Bear that in mind in all our communications and we will continue to go from strength to strength.