We Asked Young UKIP Members How to Keep Their Party Relevant
What are their thoughts on Paul Nuttall, and do they think UKIP will be able to usurp Labour as the party of the working class?
I had an existential crisis the morning Donald Trump won the US election. It lasted 90 minutes and two cold showers, and left me angry at myself for not seeing it coming. I had been smugly convinced that Hillary Clinton would triumph, as I had been that England would vote to remain in the EU five months before, and that Ed Miliband's Labour would win the 2015 general election.
This triple whammy drove home the point that I – like you, perhaps – exist in a cosy echo chamber where we giddily read, share, "like" and comment on things we agree with, and passive aggressively ignore those things we don't.
When Paul Nuttall was announced as new leader of the UK Independence Party, I thought that, rather than simply digest the news through my trusty Stewart Lee filter, I should get out of the echo chamber and pick the brains of the voters who represent the future of the party that 4 million people voted for in 2015.
First I spoke to Jamie Ross Mckenzie, the 28-year-old Chairman of Youth Independence – the youth wing of UKIP. "I think [Paul Nuttall] needs to do a lot of healing within the party," he said. "He ran on a platform of unity, and I think that must be his first priority. That may require some tough love. He cannot force unity, but he can get rid of those that cause disunity, and he shouldn't be afraid to do that."
Jamie had a future-politician's way around a sound bite, which frankly makes my job easier, but he wouldn't tell me exactly who Nuttall needs to clear out. He would, however, explain what needs to happen once the party has flushed out the deadweight. "After that is achieved," he said, "[Nuttall] must think about how UKIP will survive without MEPs and how to win seats in 2020. He should think about a rebrand, keeping the name and the colour purple, but maybe finding a fresh new logo and style."
"Most importantly," Jamie continued, "he needs to harness what I call the 'Spirit of 2016', which saw the Brexit vote and Trump's victory in America. If he sees UKIP in that context, as opposed to a conventional political party, he can oversee its growth into a great movement akin to the Labour movement of the early 20th century. The possibilities are endless."
The mention of Labour and a possible usurping of their role as the party of the working class has been the focus of press coverage around UKIP since Nuttall's election. It was given some ballast when Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead and former Labour minister, declared that Nuttall was a "game changer" when it came to how the party would be perceived by those potential UKIP voters who felt disengaged with Farage and his private-schooled, post-stockbroker patter.
"We need to use the momentum we've got, [and take it] into the Labour heartland in the north and bring common sense into politics," said Flo Lewis, Chairman of UKIP's LGBT wing, who describes herself as sitting in the centre of the political spectrum. She was fairly sympathetic towards Jeremy Corbyn but admitted "he may be causing disillusionment in his own party".
At the same time, Jamie Mckenzie said, "I don't think Jeremy Corbyn should be underestimated in his support amongst the working classes," acknowledging that the Labour leader "taps into the same sort of anti-establishment populism as UKIP, and appeals to those with 'Old Labour' values – often by virtue of him not being a Blairite".
When pushed on the best tangible ways to take advantage, neither Lewis nor Mckenzie offered much – though Mckenzie's "feeling that the infighting in Labour has just begun" suggests kicking up the dust of a Labour dirty war might be the best way for Nuttall to make inroads.
When it comes to Theresa May, both were united in what you might call very tentative respect, with Mckenzie admitting that she is "talking a good talk" when it comes to her current determination to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March.
Rob Hume, a 28-year-old UKIP voter from Maidstone, was more direct. "May is the new Thatcher; that is fact," he said. "She will tell you what she is going to do whether you like it or not. The best option at the moment would be a re-election."
Of course, the looming question in all this remains: if May delivers on terms they're happy with and which satisfy the will of the 52 percent, what happens to UKIP? How do they stay politically relevant when they've achieved the very thing that inspired their conception?
"She won't," says Mckenzie.
Regardless, might May's commitment to Brexit – despite her voting against it –negatively affect UKIP's support base, as the less hardcore members flock back to the familiar embrace of the Tories?
"Perhaps momentarily, until we see the Tories revert to type and ultimately fail us on this and other issues," argues Mckenzie.
So what of the terms of immigration – the issue that came to define the Brexit campaign, and, for many voters, UKIP's raison d'être?
"I would like to see a controlled immigration system; not a stop to it, but almost like a vetting regime," says Joe Goddard, 28, a vehicle damage assessor from Maidstone, Kent, who I've known for 15 years. "If immigrants [are] here to get educated – to work and to better themselves – then I don't think people would have any bitterness towards them. But to come here purely to live off our tax money is what is upsetting people, I think."
Elsewhere, Flo Lewis has two big priorities: an increased confrontation of LBGT issues, not least the fact that homosexual men – regardless of their relationship status – have to stay celibate for 12 months before giving blood. She also wants to see Nuttall pushing for proportional representation; an understandable wish when you consider UKIP garnered one seat in parliament for 12.6 percent of the vote, compared with the likes of the Scottish National Party, which gathered 56 for just 7.5 percent.
Away from Nuttall, in the age of Trump, the UK's strongest political link to the US lies in Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader's predecessor and arguably the most divisive human being on these shores. So what's next for the second most popular politician in South Thanet?
"The whole of the British establishment were incredibly snooty towards Donald Trump," says Mckenzie. "Nigel, an anti-establishment figure himself, was one of the few that supported him. This means he now shares a bond, not only in a political sense, but also on a deep personal level with the most powerful man in the US and arguably the world."
Right. Time for another cold shower.
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