Saturday, 8 November 2014

Painted into a corner

Listening to BBC Any Questions today, it's quite clear that hardly anybody is convinced that David Cameron managed to negotiate a settlement over the £1.7bn bill from the EU. And at this point whether he has or not is redundant. Nobody in the political sphere believes him.

What's interesting is that because Labour want to paint him as weak, they are taking the same line as Ukip. Later on in the programme we got to the subject of a Tory referendum on EU membership. The Carswell line is that any such referendum would be a based on a fudged renegotiation thus we shouldn't have one. Such is implied by the Ukip strategy of trying to hurt the Tories in any possible way. This is a pretty shortsighted approach. If nobody is going to believe any renegotiation package, then that's actually quite an asset to the exit camp. Especially since David Cameron would probably be even less popular than he is now. But that is of no interest to Ukip. Ukip, the party that wants to leave the EU, is working hard to make sure we don't have that referendum.

But then on the issue of immigration, Carswell was boxed in on all fronts at the suggestion from Diane Abbott that Ukip does have quite a large contingent of toxic and racist people, forcing him to do the bit on how Ukip is not a racist party. This was something of an evasion. It's obvious to just about everybody who isn't a Ukipist that Ukip does indeed attract following of, glib, sour and obnoxious racist people. It is a problem, and making the EU debate one about immigration brings out all of the very worst aspects. The longer it runs, the more likely Ukip is to lose the argument. I take the view that it already has, but that's a debate that will run and run.

Gradually the facts are coming to the forefront about immigration and Ukip's assertions that problem immigration is directly an EU consequence is not a position that can withstand scrutiny in the public sphere.

We heard the usual mantras from Simon Hughes about millions of jobs depending on free movement and the possibility of taking a huge hit to GDP if we left the EU, and those arguments are not going to go away, nor are they going to be settled. That's why Flexcit exit plan from EUreferendum takes a more pragmatic approach so that not only do we have a realistic and achievable way out, we can also sidestep those same tired arguments and instead reframe the debate about how much more influence we could have outside of the EU.

This is is precisely the kind of strategic thinking that so desperately eludes Ukip, and because it has been so fixated on immigration and fingering the EU, it now makes it utterly impossible for them to endorse Flexcit (or indeed any other EEA/EFTA based approach). Instead it will have to fight uphill battles they don't need to fight and can't win, arguing against an establishment that has sophisticated techniques and stronger arguments.

Ukip is taking a huge gamble that it can wing it with only hypothetical post exit scenarios which they then have to justify, and the debate then gets bogged down in a furious exchange of dry economic metrics and cries of "uncertainty". And this is the bone-headedness of Ukip. They're not thinking about what a referendum debate will look like, how it will be played and whether they really have the necessary clout to swing it. They can't see beyond the immediate and are too pig-headed to heed advice.

The smackheads in Ukip will point to various successes but the polls are bouncing around 18% and have been for some time. That doesn't convert into many MPs in FPTP system. Nor does the nationalistic populist approach have broad enough appeal to win. Big as they might now be, the more wins they get the more complacent they become. Soon enough they'll have an even bigger blind spot to their own conduct. Whenever I see something like "muzzer pedo gangs" written on Twitter, I'm never hugely surprised to see that it's a Ukipist. It's not going to help the cause at all.

My critics refuse to answer any of these points and prefer to trot out the usual attacks that I'm obsessively anti-Ukip and holding a grudge, but not one of them will address any of the above points head on. They don't do honest debate. The tribe matters to them more than getting out of the EU.

Whoever says these things, which are hardly unreasonable things to say, are treated as heretics and traitors, and if someone like Iain Martin in the Telegraph says it, well that's just biased establishment media innit? This is why I'm warming to the view that political tribalism is actually a contagious mental illness - and I'm deeply saddened to see how it has infected so many formerly intelligent people.

What I will say is that it was refreshing to hear Carswell as the voice of Ukip who is at least well mannered and not crass and boorish like his fellow travelers. Calm, rational and informed is the right approach, but sadly, he is boxed in my Ukip's previous blunders and the lack of message discipline means he will find himself undermined at every turn by the brainless and careless utterances of his colleagues.

It's possible that Carswell could reform Ukip, but it would mean throwing most of their policies in the dustbin (again) and radically changing the message. I doubt there is time and such huge u-turns would not go unnoticed. But that's probably not going to happen now that Carswell has caught the Ukip disease. It will soon spread to the brain where in due course he'll be as big a prat as Farage is. We can only hope that the Ukip fever burns out before the game gets serious.

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