Sunday, 28 September 2014

Great to see the Tories suffering, but sad it should be by UKIP lying to and ripping off more voters

The discomfiture of the Tory Party would normally give me a pleasant surge of Schadenfreude, so I ought to be glad that the start of its conference has been overshadowed by adverse publicity. But when that publicity comes courtesy of gutter journalism by a tabloid and of a vicious far right-wing organisation, I take no pleasure from it.

The tabloid poison came from the Sunday Mirror. I don’t know the details because I refuse to read the articles, but apparently they trapped a junior Minister into sexting explicit pictures of himself, forcing him to resign. It seems to me that the role of the press is to expose incompetence or dishonesty in politicians, not to mount sting operations to embarrass them about their sexual weaknesses.

When it comes to being toxic, however, no one beats the United Kingdom Independence Party, UKIP. It held its party conference this weekend, just before the Conservatives assembled for theirs. The conference was in Doncaster, where the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband is Member of Parliament; on Friday, indeed, the conference focused on trying to win disaffected Labour voters to its banners.

We even had a UKIP member and long-time Labour voter telling us that she remained a socialist, but a “commonsensical socialist”. She’d joined UKIP because she felt it represented more closely what she believes. Presumably she feels that it’s socialist common sense to stand for xenophobia and scapegoating immigrants for a crisis that was caused by the failures of our financial system.

That was all on Friday. On Saturday, party leader Nigel Farage announced the defection of a Conservative MP to his party, the second in a month. Mark Reckless justified his decision on the grounds that “people feel ignored, taken for granted, over-taxed, over-regulated, ripped off and lied to.”

Mark Reckless joining the feckless
With an image of his party leader Nigel Farage gloating behind him
It was wonderful for UKIP to be able to announce this news just hours before the Prime Minister turned up for the start of the Conservative Conference. David Cameron, not a quick thinker, if he’s a thinker at all, was unable to answer the many questions from journalists, both on the defection and the ministerial resignation, preferring simply to walk grim-faced into the conference building.

A real coup for UKIP, in other words.

Except when you start looking into the reality behind the words. All that stuff about having a stand that should attract Labour voters was curious, when the joker they had up their sleeve wasn’t a Labour defection but another Tory. That does rather confirm the general view that UKIP is simply a more dangerously right-wing version of the Conservatives. Saturday’s message had little in common with Friday’s.

Sunday continued to build on UKIP's return to its Tory roots. The party announced a new tax policy that would generate savings of £43,000 a year – three-quarters as much again as median annual earnings in Britain – for anyone being paid a million a year. It would make no change at all to those on £10,000 a year.

So when Reckless talks about being “overtaxed” then, like any Tory, he means the people on top incomes.

As for being “ignored, taken for granted” and “ripped off”, if you’re on low earnings UKIP intends to treat you exactly that way.

Indeed, when a suggestion was made by a UKIP spokesman that the party might put a tax on luxury items such as shoes and handbags, Nigel Farage went out of his way to kill the idea right off. He told the BBC “I’m pretty certain that while I am leader that will not be in our manifesto.”

Reckless claimed sympathy with those who are being lied to, but if UKIP is trying to appeal to Labour supporters with the suggestion that it might tackle inequality in society, it’s not providing the most shining examples of truth-telling itself.

But then Reckless is hardly a man to turn down the opportunity to gain a political advantage by a falsehood. It seems that as recently as Friday, he left a voicemail for the Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps, assuring him that he would be attending the Party Conference. Within 48 hours, he was announcing his defection at a time designed to do the most damage to his former colleagues. It
’s hardly unreasonable of Shapps to claim that Reckless lied, and lied, and lied.

Ignored, taken for granted, lied to, ripped off. Anyone naive enough to be taken in by the UKIP message is going to find out how that really feels. Which is why I take little joy over the news that has caused so much distress to the Tories. Couldn’t happen to more deserving people. But it shouldn’t be this way.

As for the woman who regards herself as a commonsensical socialist hoping to achieve her aims through UKIP, I have just one question: might that approach not prove just a little reckless?

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