David Silvester, elected as a Conservative councillor for Henley-on-Thames (pop. 10,000) resigned from the Tories and joined UKIP in 2013 to protest David Cameron’s support of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act. A local paper published his letter about same-sex marriage causing the floods on Saturday 17th January 2014.
— lgbt.co.uk (@lgbtcouk) January 18, 2014
On Sunday, following a small social media stir, founder of @UpikTips started a new Twitter account that evening: @UKIPweather, which has now tweeted 18 times and has over 100,000 followers – a phenomenon which brought David Silvester’s comments into the mainstream news. (For contrast, UKIP’s official Twitter account has only 36,300 followers.)
EXTREME WEATHER WARNING! Tonight for the first time, just about half past ten. For the first time in history it's gonna start rainin' men
— UkipWeather (@UkipWeather) January 18, 2014
On Monday Nigel Farage made some comments about the dangers for UKIP of accepting Tory defectors and said he had suspended David Silvester from party membership, but David Silvester told the Henley Standard that he had received “34 messages of support, mostly from fellow Christians” and:
“As regards resigning from UKIP, I still have not been informed personally that I have been suspended and until I am I shall regard myself as a fully paid-up member of the party, to whom I recently made a £170 party donation.”
In England, UKIP has 135 county councillors, 20 unitary-authority councillors, and 14 District councillors: two county borough councillors in Wales: one councillor in Northern Ireland: a single MLA in Stormont who defected from DUP: thirteen MEPs who fully represent the diversity of UKIP (but five of them to be deselected for the next European elections in May for having more “extremist, nasty or barmy” views than Farage thinks his party can cope with), and they once, for nearly eight months in 2008, had an MP: when Bob Spink, who was sporadically the Conservative MP for Castle Point in Essex from 1992 to 2010, had resigned from the Conservative Party and joined UKIP from 21 April 2008 to November 2008. They’ve never won an election in Scotland.
UKIP receives disproportionate recognition by the BBC and other mainstream media – famously, Nigel Farage has appeared on Question Time more often than any other person except David Dimbleby, Peter Sissons, and Robin Day: in Scotland Farage has been on Question Time more often than any representative of the Scottish Green Party (which has two MSPs, 14 councillors, two MEPs, to UKIP’s zero).
Nigel Farage complains that BBC Question Time audiences are “hostile”: understandably, since there is nowhere in the UK where UKIP has any majority: Farage appears so often, my guess is, because the Question Time production team know he’s good entertainment value, as an elected politician he doesn’t have to be paid, and audiences will react to what he says: the worst politicians from the view of a TV production company are those who repeat a dutiful party line in calm and boring voices, stirring neither hissing nor applause.
That’s not Farage’s problem. Nigel Farage says things like
“A woman who has a client base, has a child and takes two or three years off – she is worth far less to her employer when she comes back than when she went away”
Farage gets attacked by protesters waving placards calling him “Nasty Little Nigel”: he has taxi-drivers refusing him as a fare in Edinburgh: he is in many ways a ludicrous as well as an unpleasant figure on the edge of British politics.
If we compare British politics to the US, the Democratic Party is what you would get if the Tories and LibDems merged, with the more left-wing LibDems dropping out and leaving only the ones who comfortably fit in their existing coalition. The Republican Party is what you would get if UKIP merged with the BNP and was as successful as it would like to be. And voter turnout for those two choices would be 38%. (By comparison, turnout at the Scotland’s council elections in 2012 was a new low for Scottish politics: 39.1%.)
A period of calm as a group of women go shopping for shoes. However, storm clouds will form when one of them suggests going to Millets
— UkipWeather (@UkipWeather) January 20, 2014
Since UKIP hugely increased its share of the vote in the local council elections in May 2013, mainstream media pundits have been discussing elaborately what the “surge” in UKIP support means for the General Election in May 2015: the Tories tend to say loudly that many of the people supporting UKIP were never really Tories and lots of them were Labour voters: everyone else notes that the Conservatives remain the most likely casualties from a surge in people voting UKIP or from elected representatives defecting to UKIP.
Other parties have serious problems. Labour is still shadowed by Tony Blair and the Iraq war: the LibDems are dealing with the very public reveal that their party’s attitudes to women are stuck in the 1970s: the Conservatives have their welfare policies criticised internationally by the UN rapporteur on housing and are the cause of the Red Cross distributing emergency food aid in the UK for the first time since WWII.
War crimes, sexual harassment, human rights: and UKIP’s problem is a hugely popular Twitter account.
.@UkipWeather unless the office manager also happens to be female – in which case emergency flood evacuation measures will proceed as usual
— Linda Moore (@WilyMouse) January 21, 2014
Solid electoral polling strongly suggests that Labour will win the next UK General Election. It’s been pointed out with some justice that normal electoral polling can’t predict properly election results next time for a party that got no representation last time – for example, the National Health Action Party (which isn’t on anyone’s electoral data because they’re newer than the last General Election) has 28,200 followers on Twitter: not far off UKIP’s total. But from the experience of the Social Democratic Party, whose long-term effect on British politics was to change the name of the Liberal Party to the Liberal Democrats, the UKIP effect is most likely to be splitting the right-wing vote – probably slightly diminishing the number of Conservative MPs in the next Parliament.
UKIP’s effect on the next General Election is likely to be far less than the knock-on effects of the Scottish independence referendum in September or the LibDem support for slashing the welfare safety net and privatising the NHS in England. But UKIP receives far more attention by the BBC than either one.
The scary thing about UKIP is not their elected representatives nor the people who vote for them: even after an unprecedented surge in their share of the vote in local council elections in England and Wales, they got only 1.1% of the local council seats in England. The people who vote for them seem for the most part to be exercising their democratic right to protest: basically right-wing but can’t stand the Tories? Who could blame you? Vote UKIP. After all, they’re not going to get in.
The scary thing about UKIP is how seriously the mainstream media take them. Not merely Farage on Question Time – that’s entertainment: but their policies and ideas are pushed as if they were equivalent to a serious political party, rather than a man in the pub bloviating about what he’d do if he were Prime Minister. UKIP deserves mockery, not serious attention.
And that’s why @UKIPweather is winning. When I began writing this blogpost it had 100,000 followers; in the time taken to compose 1200 words, it acquired another 1000. Take a lesson from that, BBC.
— Liam Beattie (@Liam_Beattie) January 21, 2014