Where terror goes, surely UKIP will follow. Today’s manifesto, launched by party leader Paul Nuttall, came from the first party to begin political campaigning after the Manchester attack earlier this week.
If Nuttall hopes that the timing might help UKIP regain some much-needed support on polling day, however, he may find himself disappointed. There is little in the manifesto, for instance, that will comfort those worried that UKIP faces a potentially fatal existential crisis after the triggering of Article 50. On the Today program this morning, John Humphrys asked Nuttall if the party was on “a bit of a suicide mission”.
Unfortunate phrasing aside, it is a question many will be asking. With their defining goal—bringing about the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union—all but realised, Nuttall and his party face an urgent need to re-invent themselves. (This has been apparent for some time; back in November, David Runciman wrote in these pages that the party had descended into a literal fist fight in the aftermath of its great referendum triumph.)
One section of their manifesto, entitled “Brexit Britain: the Key Tests”, conspicuously sets out to do just that. The manifesto announces that, until “each one of them has been met, we will not have the Brexit the British people voted for on 23rd June last year.” The key test, they say, is fishing rights, on which the Conservatives “already look to be backsliding.”
Other tests, on not paying a divorce payment, having “full control of immigration and asylum boundaries”—without any obligations in terms of free movement—and a goal to have Brexit “done and dusted” by the end of 2019 may well be popular with some.
But their suggestion that the UK should simply repeal the 1972 European Communities Act—of which relatively few members of the public will be aware—and stage a unilateral withdrawal, rather than going through the process of Article 50, has the tang of a party keen to move the goalposts after someone else has scored with their ball.
This air pervades the manifesto. Even its introduction frames UKIP not as a political party seeking to form a government, but as “the country’s insurance policy, the guard dogs of Brexit”. Another phrase might be “the thorn in the Prime Minister’s side.”
Even Nuttall’s fiery rhetoric at the campaign launch, which—predictably, after Monday night’s attack in Manchester—made Islamic extremism a key topic, felt more antagonistic than visionary. Politicians, he claimed, had failed to acknowledge a “key problem”, and he advocated for “a far more muscular approach” on immigration, including seizing the passports of any Britons who travel to fight for Islamic State and hiring 4,000 new border guards.
The manifesto also promises a flagship “one in, one out” immigration policy and to ban Sharia Law. The one-time avowed libertarian also now proposes legislation to ban the veil (although, as was amusingly pointed out on social media, their plan to ban “all face coverings” does not, apparently, extend as far as beekeepers, who were pictured with face coverings in the manifesto itself).
Despite banning *all* face coverings, Ukip feature a beekeeper, replete with full mask, in their manifesto pic.twitter.com/0XVLYYW1Tx
— Lucy Fisher (@LOS_Fisher) May 25, 2017
Nuttall called the launch an “act of defiance” in the wake of the attack. But with so much of his party’s support already absorbed by the Tories, it seems unlikely even this will help UKIP regain much in the way of support.
There will, of course, be some who believe that Theresa May’s response to Monday’s attack is not hardline enough, and doubltess the following days will include much scrutiny of her period as Home Secretary. UKIP may also enjoy a small polling bounce following today’s launch.
Yet May’s commitment to keeping the immigration limit within the tens of thousands, alongside her record as Home Secretary, leaves little room for UKIP to gain serious ground among those who believe that stricter immigration controls are a key security issue.
The most they can hope for on 8 June is to once again be honoured with the vote share to claim that they can remain, if not a towering political force, at least enough of one to bother May. With their polling numbers so far stubbornly in the (low) single digits, it will take more than an opportunistic manifesto launch to figure out how you can remobilise an army which has already won its defining war.