The speech delivered by David Cameron on the future of the UK membership of the EU, on 23 January 2013, caused mixed reactions – astonishment, anger, or even a sense of victory for some. Thrilled that an in-or-out referendum has now been offered, UKIP believes they 'will deliver what David Cameron will not'. But can they?
Establishing a brand to distinguish itself from other parties: the early beginnings of the UK Independence Party
“I intend to start a party, which will lead Britain out of the EU”. Those words were first said by Alan Sked, on the creation of a party that would truly fight for Britain’s independence from the EU. A year later, on 2 September 1993, UKIP was christened and Alan Sked’s promises were fulfilled. UKIP’s first participation in the European elections on 9 June 1994 confirmed their wish to gain access to public office through electoral competition. In other words, despite their failure (they only secured 3,3% of the votes, and were thus unable to win any seats), from then on UKIP could no longer be mistaken as a pressure group.
Today, though UKIP often relies on polls to assert their third position on the political scene – Ipsos Mori's latest poll placed them third before the Liberal Democrats – one can easily doubt that it is a political party just like the Tories or Labour.
Is UKIP merely a single-issue party, or a party with one main issue?
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, more and more people tend to argue that UKIP cannot be but a political party. And yet, in people’s minds, UKIP remains a single-issue party.
The party's heavy advertisement on their stance on the EU can act as an explanation for that general belief. Indeed, they openly claim they are “the only party standing up for Britain and (all) the British people”. The phrase “The EU – a symptom, not the cause2 in bold type is self-explanatory. However, the short paragraph hereafter displays in more detail the most common reasons UKIP candidates list for a withdrawal from the EU:
“UKIP was founded in 1993 to campaign for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Not because we hate Europe, or foreigners, or anyone at all; but because it is undemocratic, expensive, bossy – and we still haven’t been asked whether we want to be in it. But the EU is only the biggest symptom of the real problem – the theft of our democracy by a powerful, remote political ‘elite’ which has forgotten that it’s here to serve the people.”
It seems quite obvious the EU-sceptic sentiment is the core of the UKIP program. And the explanation for the party’s stance on the issue seems clear and consistent.
Accommodating political change in Britain
The creation of the party coincides with a period of great euroscepticism. In 1992, the British pound was forced out of the European Exchange Mechanism. In 1993, British citizens struggled over deciding whether the UK should ratify the Maastricht Treaty.
Since then, rates of people intending to vote for the UK withdrawal from the EU have increased, reaching 40%. Half of the British population is now against the Constitutional Treaty and more generally against the EU. And 60% of British citizens exclusively feel British and not British and European.
Using that feeling as a brand and infiltrating an institution as despised as the European Parliament gave UKIP great credit. The 2004 and 2009 results confirmed the British hostility to integration in a supranational order. In his 2007 paper, Usherwood voiced what many thought but never said: UKIP is “one of the oldest and biggest and electorally most successful anti-EU parties”. And in fact, standing as the third largest party in the 2004 EU elections certainly reinforced the position of the party within the political arena. Yet, people still wonder on what grounds UKIP has been so successful in the past few years.
What UKIP stands against
According to the leaders of a local branch, UKIP remains the first party to claim that the “real government of Britain is now Brussels”, which is the motivation for the party to act upon it.
Julian Mischi distinguishes three types of opposition to the EU, which are the following, in the case of UKIP:
- A socio-economic opposition the party expresses with its utilitarian discourse against the EU: what will the EU bring to the UK? And will it bring any good to the country?
- A political opposition: fighting for British sovereignty, UKIP stands against the mere acceptance of the principle of subsidiarity – which requires countries to transfer some of their powers in internal affairs to a federalist Europe. UKIP basically rejects any of European authority and CA Policy, Roger Knapman argues.
- A geo-political opposition: “UKIP recognises Britain as a global player with a global destiny and not a regional state within a ‘United States of Europe' ".
In other words, UKIP accuses the European Union of being massively corrupt, undemocratic (Commissioners have authority to initiate legislation, though they’re not elected), expensive and of diluting the countries’ sovereignty.
According to some, the negative definition of the party prevents it from winning seats at Westminster. Moreover, though we established a three-hold opposition to the EU, people still consider that UKIP gives out no clear reason.
Although a UKIP candidate once said that: “The fact is that since Britain no longer governs itself, getting out of the EU is not a single issue, it is the only issue”, UKIP still needed to broaden its range of policies and explain a sound Exit and Survival strategy, only to establish itself better on the national level.
That’s the reason why its National Executive Committee decided to re-contextualize the policy lines and arenas of activities within a larger notion of “Independence”, using a libertarian and democratic rhetoric. In his article “UKIP at the crossroads”, Adam Carter emphasised that: “In recent years, [they] tried to recast UKIP’s ‘independence’ as not being solely about independence from the EU but about a broader libertarian conception of individual freedom and minimal state intervention.”
Only time will tell whether it works out for them.
To go further
On Nouvelle Europe
- Dossier of February 2013 on European disintegration? The European Project in crisis, 4 February 2013
- Florian Chevoppe, The (Second) British Rebellion - Is this the end of Britain in the EU?, 24 October 2011
- Carter A., “UKIP at the crossroads”, Searchlight Magazine, 1 June 2012
- Daniel M., Cranks and Gaflies – The Story of UKIP. London, Timewell Press, 2005
- Mcsmith A., “UKIP vows to show it can upset the Conservatives – as well as Europe”, The Independent, 21 September 2012
- Mischi, J., "Les mobilisations eurosceptiques au Royaume-Uni : une continuité historique ?", Critique internationale, n° 32, Juillet-Septembre 2006
- Usherwood, S., "The Dilemmas of a Single-Issue Party: The UK Independence Party", Representation, Vol. 44-3, 2008.
- Usherwood S., "UKIP's Political Strategy: Opportunistic Idealism in a Fragmented Political Arena”, 2010.
On the internet
- UKIP website, About us
- UKIP website, A UKIP Statement of Principles
- UKIP website, UKIP’s 2010 Manifesto
- UKIP website, UKIP policies - Foreign affairs and international trade: UKIP policy
- Local UKIP website, What they tell you about UKIP
- UKIP Nigel Farage - BBC Daily Politics July 2010
- UKIP Nigel Farage on BBC HARDtalk, world service radio - 6th August 2012
Photo source: The Telegraph, 26 November 2012