Monday, 6 March 2017

Hooked on the Ukip narrative

Tim Black of Spiked Online has noticed that Ukip is in a bit of a pickle. 
The party’s a ‘mess’ said Nuttall at the weekend. Hence the near constant infighting, leadership churn and perpetual thrashing around for a future direction, a programme, even a new organisational form. Ex-leader and would-be knight Nigel Farage wants it to adopt a more radical anti-immigrant platform; his nemesis and sole UKIP MP, former and future Tory Douglas Carswell, wants a softer, more immigrant-friendly UKIP. And UKIP’s financial raison d’être Arron Banks is contemplating turning UKIP into some sort of Anglified Five Star Movement, complete with a new set of pick’n'mix policies, from the renationalisation of certain public utilities to the abolition of the House of Lords. This is not a party building on a success – it’s a party disintegrating in the midst of failure.
Not that you would necessarily know this given the focus on UKIP in much of the media and among the political class. They portray UKIP as a still significant force, a dangerous enemy to be combatted, an electoral phenomenon to be defeated. Why is this happening? Why is UKIP, which is clearly a party in disarray, indeed a party in little but name only given its internal dysfunction, being treated as something more important and meaningful than it now is? Because UKIP serves a function for those opposed to Brexit: it functions as the official voice of Brexit. Not because it is, but because they want it to be. They want UKIP, in all its purple-hued incompetence, to be their opponent, the Brexit they can beat, caricature, mock. So to unmask UKIP’s ‘ugly agenda’, to condemn it to the fringes of political life, is a means, at some level, to defeat Brexit, to delegitimise and demonise Leave voters, and to shore up the political establishment.
This is very nice little theory. It doesn't work though. Black is right in that Ukip is dead for all the reasons he says it is, but that fate was sealed by Farage long ago by way of having turned it into a personality cult, dispensing with anybody with talent and failing to develop any substance. What else could it do but fold without him?

It is, though, entirely serendipitous that the remoaner clan get to use Ukip as their political piñata. This is more a case of waste not want not than any machiavellian strategy. The reason Ukip lingers on beyond the grave is simply because our media works on narrative. For a long time now their narrative in any voting ritual will be "how will the plucky anti-establishment underdog fare? Can it make a breakthrough?". This provides them with hours of opportunity for witless speculation - and Ukip, for a time, was interesting enough to fill column space with.

Now that Ukip has collapsed, the public are no longer interested in the fate of the party. Our media though, is far too attached to its go to narrative and they will have to undergo a period of rehab to get used to the idea that the narrative has changed. For now, media coverage of Ukip is the vape stick for hacks to wean themselves off the 2015 narrative. 

Post-general election, the public is largely bored of elections, especially so after a referendum too. The media, however, has its own dismal fixations and its own election traditions and rituals it must rinse out no matter how inconsequential the by-election. Ukip fills the void in an otherwise inconsequential set of votes. A dwindling band of Tweeter political anoraks will consume it willingly as though the fate of the country were hanging in the balance, but the only zombies the rest of us are watching are The Walking Dead.

That the remoaners have tried to Ukipize the Brexit vote is nothing at all new. John Van Reenen (LSE) has been grinding that axe ever since along with AC Grayling and all the other Brexit bores. In that respect they do not need Ukip to demonise and delegitimise Brexit. According to remoners we're all just slobbering simpletons who read a slogan on the side of a bus and voted accordingly. Even if Ukip were dead and buried, the spirit of Vote Leave lingers on in Mrs May's cabinet and is making its mark on the Brexit process.

In fact, as time goes by, this will be marked more as a Tory brexit, where the May government will take the rap, with a huge dose of Cameron resentment. A decade or so from now, Ukip will be long forgotten and will be little more than a footnote in history. Nothing Farage has ever said had sufficient gravitas to have swayed the public mood. He was no Enoch Powell and his most famous contribution was berating foreigners with HIV. The Farage shaped hole in the history books will be filled by Boris Johnson. History is written by the victors, and that's not Ukip. It's Vote Leave.

Ultimately our media is hung up on Ukip because it lacks the sophistication to deal with anything beyond the well worn narratives. Much of the media and political class is still refighting the referendum. The media will keep rolling out the Ukip barrel for as long as it takes them to realise that nobody really cares. By the time Article 50 is invoked and all hell is let loose and they will have new narratives and new distractions. The new swivel eyed loons will be the remainers. As for them... remoaners gonna moan. Get used to it.

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