Ukip must be finding it difficult to walk, given the succession of shots in the foot that its councillors and candidates have inflicted over the past fortnight. Ukip’s leadership is now desperately trying to put a lid on things. And hammer it down with very large nails.
Zoe Williams in the Guardian has suggested that advising its candidates to lay off the social media comments might be ‘a mistake’. Comparing Ukip’s free spirits with robotic Westminster politicians who only go off message at their peril, she said that part of Ukip’s appeal was that its members said what they think. We like that. We have a sneaking admiration for the honesty, even if we disapprove of the message.
Fair point. In this sense Ukip has caught the zeitgeist. It looks like a megaphone for anyone who wishes to inflict their opinions, however bizarre, half-baked or nutty, on everyone else. This kind of public participation has mushroomed over the past decade, partly as a result of the ease of doing it on the social media, partly because we all like to think our opinions have value and should count, even if we suspect they don’t. And most of us haven’t got the time to back them up with evidence. Or can be bothered enough to use logic. No, it’s enough to parade any part-digested snippet from the media as our opinion and be proud of it.
Yes, I’m aware there’s more than a small element here of the pot calling the kettle black. But no-one’s forcing you to read this. And anyway, it’s Christmas. Who the hell’s reading this? Haven’t you got something better to do?
In the meagre space into which politics are restricted these days, Ukip members’ off the wall comments may indeed look like a breath of fresh air to some on the nostalgic right. But there’s more to it. These comments also tap into a long, cultural tradition of the British (or is it English) opinionated eccentric – from Colonel Blimp to Citizen Smith and the Tooting Popular Front. And why did we find the characters in the Fast Show so hilarious?
But therein also lies Ukip’s problem. Opinionated eccentrics are tolerated. But their opinions are rarely taken seriously. Shelved under ‘comedic items’, they become relatively harmless and non-threatening for most people (even though they might be read very differently by those who are the butt of the ‘joke’ and therefore ‘have no sense of humour’). Ukip’s gaffes have often been set firmly within this comedic tradition of British eccentricity, although on the conservative side of it. This is unlike the BNP for example, which looks altogether too serious and, dare it be said, ‘European’. And that goes even more for those on the socialist left.
In other words, Ukip’s best hope might well be to remain relaxed about the gaffes and become a British equivalent of the Five Star Movement in Italy, run by an actual comedian. But unlike Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, behind the blokiness Ukip actually peddles a direly traditional, neo-liberal and conservative ideology. This turns out be no threat to the corporate elites who rule the roost these days. And that’s not very funny at all.