How to throw away the political opportunity of a lifetime

And now for something completely different.

While many of the things that have come to mind recently have been about good things and true things (and hopefully something I’ve said has done them justice), posting solely about such subjects leaves me in danger of misrepresenting myself. I find lots of subjects interesting, and in some of them irreverence is not a sin, so here we are.

I was fairly relieved at the results of the recent UK General Election. I’m not Cameron’s greatest fan (although he was certainly very canny in keeping that letter for the past five years), but from my perspective the results could have been a lot worse, even if I believe everything is doomed in the end anyway. But it will be interesting to see how things pan out.

One thing catching my attention, however, is UKIP. Now I’m fairly sympathetic to some of their policies; I’ve voted UKIP in the past, and could possibly do so again. I understand that they may be disappointed at the one seat they won at the election. But I believe their reaction so far is interesting in that it seems to be throwing away an opportunity. UKIP came third, with 3.8 million votes. They came second in 125 seats. That’s 125 seats that they could conceivably claim to be the main alternative. There’s a range of seats in the South East and East Anglia (including my home town) where UKIP came second to the Conservatives, leaving them as the main alternative. And there’s a number of Northern seats where UKIP has managed to make inroads against Labour the Conservatives cannot. This could, if they desired, be seen as a tremendous opportunity for the 2020 elections, with the very real possibility of breaking through into Parliament in a major way. The 2017 referendum on the EU may cost them their raison d’etre, but also offers them the opportunity to be in the forefront of national politics, while for several years they have been branching out beyond merely contesting EU membership.

Yet several of their reactions in the early days of this Parliament suggest they may not seize this opportunity. The first has been their reaction to the disparity between the votes they received and the seats they won. It is perhaps understandable that this is seen is unfair. It may be unfair (I’m not convinced of the argument for PR, but the argument can definitely be made). But even if it is actually unfair, it looks weak to only start complaining loudly about the issue after it has cost you seats. It is political poison to be seen as whingeing. To present a viable opposition or a government, there needs to be an impression of strength; a weak party will only be seen as offering a weak government.

The second reaction has been the so-called unresignation. It’s entirely possibly that Nigel Farage was sincere in his resignation, and sincerely persuaded by the UKIP national executive to recant. But from a practical perspective, stepping and staying down as leader could allow other potential leaders emerge (and ideally a party needs a number of capable people, or you’ll be quite stuck when it comes to cabinet positions). Farage stepping back in is the safe choice – the safe choice for a party that lacks confidence, and gives every sign of wishing to remain a party of protest that looks like a one-man band. But far worse, the unresignation gives the impression of a lack of integrity and a lack of credibility, and that’s a fatal impression. It does no good to point to other parties, particularly when one has made their lack of credibility a key issue. Credibility reassures voters and friends that you will keep your promises, and warns enemies that, well that you will keep your promises to them too. Otherwise one looks toothless as an enemy and useless as a friend, a policy that has been doing wonders for the Obama administration in the Middle East.

Each of the parties has their own difficulties, so it’s unclear how things will pan out. Part of me dislikes the whole concept of political parties anyway. But like them or not, politics like any other field has good strategies and bad strategies, and it’s interesting seeing a party seem to sabotage the opportunity it doesn’t seem to realise it even has.

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