I mean yes, we know that in this era of coalitions and compromise, manifesto pledges are not what they once were. But it’s often in the details that you can get a proper grasp of what a party truly stands for, as well as how serious they are.
This is an especially vital issue for parties that have never held office, and so have no real track record.
In the last UK general election, I was torn between four parties – the Lib Dems, Greens, Tories and Labour all had something major I could agree with, some major things I disagreed with. Hell, I could find something to agree about in the manifestos of all parties – yes, including UKIP (support for pubs and the beer trade) and including the BNP (they may be vile racists, but they had a smattering of economic policies that weren’t totally insane, probably a Mosleyite legacy).
So now that UKIP has disowned its entire 2010 manifesto and Nigel Farage has openly stated that his party won’t issue a new one ahead of May’s European Parliament elections, where does this leave prospective UKIP voters?
OK, so we know they don’t like the EU and want to leave, but what alternative do they propose? What steps will they take in the meantime to work to lessen the malicious impact of Brussels? Which policy areas in particular do they see as most pernicious? Will they do anything active to reform the EU institutions and laws they see as most harmful to the UK? To flesh out partnerships and deals with other European parties to gain favourable terms and conditions for their proposed Brexit? What do they see as the key battleground issues? Where do they see potential for cross-party support?
Or are they merely saying “elect us to the Brussels gravy train we profess to hate so much, and trust us”? Because if so, their MEPs’ track records don’t offer up much cause for UKIP supporters to give them that trust.
In the current EP term they’ve seen multiple defections and suspensions, just as they did in the previous one, and the roll call of UKIP MEPs isn’t an especially auspicious one – 6 of the 13 UKIP MEPs who were elected in 2009 have since fallen out with the party for various reasons, including former EU whistleblower Marta Andreasen, the only one they had who it was possible to respect. In the previous parliament it was much the same story – remember Robert Killroy-Silk‘s challenge for the leadership and then setting up of the short-lived rival Veritas, or the conviction of UKIP MEP Ashley Mote for benefit fraud?
And that’s not to mention their dire attendance records.
All that said, Farage is entirely right to ditch UKIP’s 2010 manifesto, because it was packed full of the kinds of bizarre policies you’d expect from a joke group, not a serious us contender. Not to mention the unpleasant anti-Muslim tone that permeated the thing under the temporary leadership of Lord Pearson, a man who seemed even more of a caricature than Farage himself – only in Pearson’s case, an infinitely less likeable caricature.
However, while scrapping stupid policies is to be welcomed, not committing to replacements is nothing short of dishonest, especially after the various UKIP controversies of recent years, from homophobic election leaflets to racist rants about Nelson Mandela to “send the lot back” anti-immigration comments, to blaming floods on gays, to burka bans to banning teaching about climate change in schools, to incredibly vague tax policies.
It’s entirely possible UKIP supporters want these all to be party policy. It’s entirely possible they’re planning to vote UKIP because they think they still are, or will be again. It’s quite possible they see UKIP merely as a protest vote and don’t really care what their policies are.
The only thing that is certain is that it’s entirely dishonest of the party leadership not to come clean about which policies it is and is not committed to fighting for. And with so many policy flip-flops, how long until they change their minds again?
We know roughly what UKIP is against (even if the details are vague), but what is it actually for?