You can sometimes get what you want—but if you do, expect troubleby David Runciman / November 17, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
In 2014, when he was asked whether he still stood by Ukip’s notoriously daft 2010 general election manifesto—every bit as crude and cavalier as the Trump platform—Nigel Farage said he was prepared to ditch pretty much all of it. No more insisting on uniforms for taxi drivers; no more legislating to ban schools from showing Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (really!) The world waits to see which promises President-Elect Trump will dump, but insofar as his friend Farage was concerned there turned out to be only two red lines: quitting the EU and bringing back grammar schools.
Now here we are in 2016 and one of the two core Ukip policies is on the verge of becoming reality and the other is official government policy. Yet at the same time, Ukip is more of a laughing stock than ever. The party is on its hunt for its third leader in as many months, having got rid of one chief after 19 days, seen another candidate laid out on the floor of the European parliament before he defected to the Tories, and briefly flirting with a third who happily modelled himself on Trump, only without the charm or the political experience. It all illustrates that timeless political adage: be careful what you wish for.
Parties that become identified with the pursuit of a distant dream face all sorts of problems when that dream starts to come true. As their reason for being loses its grip, so does their discipline. Suddenly, the whole purpose of the party is up for grabs, which invites grandstanding and division. Ukip is not the only one who may discover this. The SNP is closer than it has ever been to fulfilling its overarching goal of Scottish independence. To this point, that prospect has been just far enough out of reach to keep the SNP functioning as a remarkably well-oiled machine. One step at a time is a great recipe for keeping the troops in line. But as the fateful final step approaches, it becomes harder to know what comes next.