After an illness-enforced absence last weekend, this morning saw me back out on the campaign trail, knocking on doors in Milton ward, Southend. Refreshed by the extra hour in bed, and helped by the surprisingly dry and mild weather, I managed to make surprisingly quick work of the streets I had set myself to do.
Mostly this was because people weren’t in — or had better things to do on a Sunday morning than answer the door to a nutter talking politics — but I still managed a few good chats with residents.
One which stands out for me, is the gentleman who told me he would probably vote for UKIP, whilst at the same time that he didn’t much rate UKIP as a party, or Nigel Farage. His support boiled down to a single issue: the European Union.
I have my concerns about the way in which the EU works, and there are a fair few things I would change given the chance, but on balance I do believe that the UK is better off in than out. But — as Julian Ware-Lane has coincidentally pointed out today — wanting a referendum on EU membership is not the same as wanting out, and even though I disagree that the UK should leave, it its merely that — a disagreement on the issue.
The trouble, as I see it, with voting for UKIP purely on the basis of leaving the EU is all the other stuff which would come along with a UKIP presence in government. UKIP politicians have previously suggested privatising the NHS, instituting a flat-tax, abolishing maternity leave, and a host of other bizarre and oppressive policies, indivisible from their policy on Europe. All of this I explained, and he admitted that he had no time for any of their other policies.
Added to that the fact that UKIP don’t bother showing up to the EU Parliament — or apparently to council meetings — so there is a real question mark over what they would actually deliver on.
Labour policy on the EU is for a referendum on membership in the event of a new treaty transferring power to Brussels. I’m sure this will disappoint some, but there are economic and political risks to trailing an eternal referendum, and as David Cameron has discovered you can scarcely talk about anything else what you have announced one. And there are other, more pressing policy matters, to be addressed.
I don’t see the EU as being the most important of issues facing Milton ward, or Southend, and indeed I am still talking to more people who tell me that they definitely won’t be voting for UKIP, than who tell me they will be. But what is notable is that even UKIP’s voters don’t seem to particularly rate it as a party.