|Ukip: A house built on sand
This is one of those posts I was not in any great hurry to write since Ukippers will no doubt assure me I will be bowled over by the incandescent brilliance of their manifesto, when it eventually comes out, and I should reserve judgement until then. But since I am in the business of saying I told you so, I suppose I ought to put this on the record.
Ukip has today announced that it favours direct democracy with more referendums and such. I cannot list how many ways I am underwhelmed by this particular announcement, since the timing is not coincidental, and on their track record, if there is a wrong end of the stick to grasp, Ukip will grasp it with both hands.
Unless direct democracy features as part of a broader package of constitutional reforms, what direct democracy will turn into is a democratic appendage, and more of a consultative process by the establishment, rather than the expression of democratic will. On its own, it is little more than a gimmick, and unless regions have greater sovereignty, central government will always find ways to subvert it. We have seen this as charges, fines and fees have ramped up to compensate for the council tax referendum lock. Some councils now take more in fees and fines than they do in direct taxation.
Moreover, if too much falls to popular sentiment then very often the worst decisions will be made for the worst reasons with terrible consequences. Like leaving the EU, broad sentiments, ill-defined aspirations and political gimmickry very soon clash with the technicalities of an ever more interconnected world. Very often these clashes come with unsolvable paradoxes and conundrums of democracy that require flexibility.
There are various complications where international trade agreements sometimes mean concessions that are unpopular, not least foreign aid, but very much in the national interest. Thus, in addition to direct democracy, a constitution is required that sets out the limits of government power but also the circumstances whereby regional and national sovereignty can be compromised.
Direct democracy has to be an aspect of reform, not the whole of the reform - and that requires a particular policy making architecture and a holistic (that dreadful word I swore I would never use) approach to it. This is beyond Ukip. What we will see is the usual half-baked Ukip scatter-gun crapola.
Very little has changed within Ukip in recent years, and now that Ukip is naked of policy it is grasping at every passing fig-leaf as it coasts toward a general election. When asked to identify the thread that binds them all, they will come unstuck, because there is no such thread. Again it comes down to the need for detail from a party and a leader with an allergy to it.
What is particularly evident to me is that Ukip lacks the ambition to come up with something really radical. It has scores of councillors now but little idea how to direct them or what to do with them. The whole focus is about getting bums on seats and nothing more. It has no ongoing co-ordinated campaigns, it isn't pushing an agenda within local government, and it has no strategy for making those things happen.
My own view would be to use the councillors to bring down council tax as far as possible (within their limited powers) and frustrate spending of any kind until concessions are made toward a bigger agenda. But Ukip hasn't got one. This is why, as I have routinely observed, Ukip is not going anywhere and has had its night in the spotlight. If it hasn't developed a strategy by now, it never will and it's probably too late even if they do.
Polls indicate that Ukip's phantom surge is already on the wane and the only thing it can do to tread water is to fight high profile local campaigns and win them - then report them back. But with Ukip lacking an agenda, and communications strategy being so utterly weak, largely obsessed with Nigel Farage and the MEPs, it is focused on an aspect of politics that is mostly remote from the public.
Without co-ordination, all it can do is stagnate as its rudderless councillors bounce from pillar to post, doing pretty much what all the other ones do in pandering to the moans of their constituents without tackling any issues of substance. Not least the absence of power locally.
So what we're looking at is panicked policy harvesting from a deadbeat party that has overextended itself and wasted everyone's time. If you were hoping for a new dawn in British politics, I'm afraid you are going to be very disappointed. Pretty soon, it will be back to business as usual. Ukip is beyond salvation.