It was difficult to miss the Eastleigh by election at the end of February. Aside from a slight surprise to some that the Lib Dems held the seat, most of the press concentrated on the fact that UKIP beat the Tories. “What could this mean for Cameron?”, they asked. “Should the Tories lurch even more to the Right?”
The simple answer to these questions are, of course, “Very little” and “No”. The UKIP vote was almost entirely a protest vote. What makes me so sure? Well, both the Lib Dem and Tory votes fell by about the same percentage of the vote - about 14 - and this is what one might expect in a by election from the party in power. In this case there are two parties, so they both lost votes. One could assume that UKIP picked-up more votes from usual Tory voters than Lib Dems, but if this were a general election most of the UKIP voters would switch back to their regular parties. The turnout for UKIP was simply a protest in a constituency where Labour would be considered an outlandish choice.
At least, one can hope the above is true, and that the UKIP voters were simply protesting against this awful government rather than actually endorsing UKIP, for the policies of UKIP are variously horribly regressive, unfair, xenophobic, homophobic, and economically and scientifically illiterate. It’s worth considering some of what UKIP says and considering the sort of party they are.
Firstly, defence. UKIP promise to increase the defence budget by 40%. The current defence budget is currently around 40 billion pounds (which is the fourth largest defence budget in the world), part of a total spend of 683 billion. Increasing it by 40% as UKIP suggest will bump it up to 56 billion. Where would UKIP find this extra 16 billion? It’s about the same as the combined budgets for industry, agriculture and employment. And what does UKIP want to do with such a vast increase in military spending? They don’t say, but history shows us that one must always beware of the military ambitions of Right-wingers. Whatever the cause, it would lead to a large increase in taxes, or cuts in other areas.
UKIP would like to double the number of prison places. That’s right, double. No doubt they intend to demonstrate a commitment to reduce crime, but simply stating that there will be more prison places doesn’t reveal how they will catch all of the extra criminals. Also, one must consider the fact that the countries with the highest rate of incarceration generally have the highest crime, so the effect of prison places on crime is unclear, to say the least. There is also the cost - the current 90,000 prison places in England and Wales cost and average of 39,600 pounds a year each. Doubling these places would cost the taxpayer another 3.5 billion pounds.
UKIP would also commit 90 billion to building nuclear power, while at the same time stopping all wind power programmes. Wind, bear in mind, results in electricity that costs on average about twice that generated by coal, thanks to fossil fuels not including the costs of pollution, flooding, and other damages. Opponents of wind complain about the cost, but nuclear is much more expensive, and leaves a legacy of radioactive waste for generations. It must be remembered that UKIP are the only party to deny the science of climate change - just another aspect of their appalling scientific illiteracy.
Another aspect of UKIPs mysterious thinking is a policy to make cyclists pay road tax and pay for parking for their bicycles. They also propose to take bicycles off the road where they would mean an ‘unacceptable delay to traffic’ (i.e. cars). Does this sound like a party that wants to tackle congestion and increase public health? We know the answer to the health angle, at least - UKIP would stop government funding of any public health campaigns, such as stopping smoking or eating more fruit and vegetables. Never mind that these campaigns have been shown to work, and such preventative measures save the NHS millions every year. Public health campaigns are a very efficient way to save money, as is increased physical fitness. Discouraging cycling helps no-one.
Fundamentally, UKIP is a party of the rich, for the rich. They are like a Tory party who has abandoned any pretence of representing anyone else. They talk the talk about the EU wasting taxpayers money, while at the same time Farage takes millions of pounds in expenses from the very taxpayers he claims to represent. UKIP are also rather famously crooked, with two of the MEPs in prison - one for benefit fraud and one for false accounting and money laundering relating to his EU expenses. While UKIP claim the EU is a gravy train, it seems they are the ones who are riding it. While they are ripping us off they aren’t even representing us: the three British MEPs with the worst attendance record are the Ukip MEPs David Campbell Bannerman, Paul Nuttall and Godfrey Bloom, each averaging under 63 per cent.
Finally, one must consider the true nature of UKIP. As I say, they are not the cuddly, comical characters as portrayed by Farage. They are in a European Far Right group, along with anti-Semitic and openly racist parties. In fact it’s not just ‘in’ this group - it’s the largest constituent party.
So, there’s UKIP - a party that, while not openly racist itself, is happy in the company of racists. A party with huge spending plans yet that promises to cut taxes. A party that ignores science. A party which wants to remove almost all worker protections so you’ll have to work for longer and for less, yet reduce the taxes of the rich. A party with plans for questionable military expansion and national isolation. Is this a party that one should consider as a contender for even a vote in protest? Think about what you’re voting for.