ITV News has reported a priceless howl of protest from Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers at UKIP: “Ukip has accused the Conservative party of running a ‘morally reprehensible’ smear campaign by trawling through potential councillors' Twitter and Facebook posts”. Or rather, as former Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell put it this morning, “Welcome to Test Match Cricket”.
Perhaps someone at UKIP has not noticed that trawling the Facebook and Twitter history of their targets has become a staple for hard pressed hacks for some time now. Did Farage’s followers think that they were somehow immune to this kind of examination? Do UKIP believe that they somehow merit a free pass when they are pursuing the same public office as their opponents?
What may also have spooked Nige and his pals is the leaking of a number of email exchanges, which has found its way to the Observer. Policy editor Daniel Boffey has allowed himself to observe “Senior party figure says leading Ukip is like 'herding cats', as top MEP ponders 'buying' policies from right-leaning thinktanks”. The impression is given that this party is a total shambles.
But this should surprise no-one: many of UKIP’s leading lights are part of a squad too awkward for other parties, usually the Tories, although one former Labour MP, Robert Kilroy-Silk, was recruited to the cause, attempting to take control of the party after becoming an MEP on their ticket in 2004, thus allowing UKIP to flirt with both “sharing” and “shafting” at the same time.
So Farage should not be phased at the revelation that many of his party’s representatives and backers are not prepared to play as a team: that’s why they’ve fetched up in UKIP. What should worry him, however, is the suggestion that the party overcome the bickering by adopting policy positions “off the shelf” from right-leaning lobby groups. This might look an attractive solution, but it’s pure poison.
One key area where UKIP can lose themselves a whole load of support is adopting economic proposals that look superficially attractive – flat taxes, for instance – but which mean more tax breaks for the rich and the dismantling of the NHS in favour of everyone having to buy their own health cover through insurance. This might buy a few well-heeled supporters. But everyone else will walk away.
In any case, if we’re being asked to consider UKIP as serious contenders for elective office, why should their social media pronouncements not be fair game? Voters should be told if they are being asked to vote for “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. If Nigel Farage wants to be handed the levers of power, the electorate should be allowed to see if his team is up to the job.
And, right now, he gives the impression that his team is anything but up to that job.