When the Maria Miller expenses scandal started, it wasn’t any great insight to deduce that it would be good for UKIP. Nigel Farage and co have been pedaling their reactionary flavour of anti-politics for a while, the natural repository since the Lib Dems committed electoral suicide went into coalition with the Tories.
And equally unsurprisingly, Mr Farage himself was in Miller’s Basingstoke constituency yesterday, promising a big announcement. How exciting. What could it be?
It was, in fact, the unveiling of the UKIP candidate for Basingstoke in 2015. What, you don’t know who it was? Well there’s one very good reason for that.
It’s not Nigel Farage.
Even as someone who is rather attentive when it comes to politics — even I struggle to remember many UKIP figures. There’s Farage, the toff-who’s-not-a-toff; there’s the one who thinks women are “sluts” and hits journalists with brochures; the scouse one; there was the woman who stood in Eastleigh; and…erm…
Which is fine, as things stand. UKIP have no MPs, a handful of councillors, and a collection of MEPs whose names nobody knows even when they do turn up to work. It is in a similar position to the Green Party, who have one MP, one council, and a clutch of MEPs — (and of them I can only really remember Caroline Lucas and the Brighton council leader named after a chocolate bar — Twix? Snickers?).
What we get instead is the Nigel Farage Roadshow. Nige pops up across the country (mostly in England, it doesn’t go terribly well for him in Scotland) often in pubs, making mini speeches denouncing everything as political correctness gone mad, castigating an unaccountable elite, saying let’s leave Europe, pull up the drawbridges, put women back in the kitchen, gays back in the closet, and send any one who can’t trace their lineage back to the Norman conquest off to Africa.
I exaggerate, but by a worryingly small amount.
Which, as I say, is fine for him. It’s the plague on all your houses schtick that Nick Clegg used to pull before he moved into one of those houses.
The issue is that Nigel Farage can only stand in one constituency. At the moment he cannily hasn’t announced which, but that’s rather like a deliberately pedalled myth that a pop star is single; everyone can fantasise that he might pick them. Apologies, that is a somewhat grotesque image.
In the end he’ll go for one in particular, somewhere he might be able to win, declaring late in the day so that the thrill of Nigel picking them lasts through to the ballot box. But what effect will that have on all the other places where UKIP is standing?
At time of press UKIP are polling nationally at around 13%. And I expect most of that is down to “that bloke Nigel”. So if down-to-earth Nigel isn’t suddenly not standing in most people’s constituencies, and they are instead left with the stark raving stylings of Keep-’em-Out Kelvin, there is a real possibility that the lustre and attraction of voting UKIP will fade for many people.
Now, that’s not to say that UKIP aren’t a worry. They are, and the full range of their policies — and the disastrous effects that they would have — should be explained to voters at every opportunity. But the thing to remember is that whilst UKIP do well when the one-man travelling roadshow that is Nigel Farage can flash a bit of ankle at every constituency he passes, he isn’t going to be able to do that forever.
And I don’t think even UKIP are aware of just how dependent they are on one man.