Diane James has recently been elected as the new leader of the UK Independence Party. On the one hand, it must feel like quite an achievement to have become the new face of Britain’s third most popular party, but then again, judging by UKIP’s current situation, that’s a bit like getting promoted to the pilot of an aircraft that has lost both it’s engines mid-flight, and only because the previous pilot has already parachuted out.
Theoretically speaking, UKIP has a golden opportunity. In the South, their opponent is a Conservative Prime Minister who, they would claim, is leaning closer and closer to a “soft Brexit”. In the North, a bitterly divided Labour Party most of who’s MPs still adopt a fiercely pro-European stance, in stark contrast to the views of most of their constituents. The UKIP election ads basically write themselves. “VOTE UKIP TO ENSURE THAT BREXIT REALLY MEANS BREXIT”… or something like that. Just throw in some economic populism and watch the Labour defectors come, or at least that’s what a reasonable person would have done.
Problem is, for UKIP to actually do some serious damage to Labour’s Northern heartlands, it must do everything possible to avoid its Thatcherite mask from slipping. It’s goal is, or at least it should be, to attract economically left but socially conservative voters who have become utterly disillusioned with Labour’s liberal and metropolitan stance on immigration. Unfortunately, UKIP is a party founded by a bunch of pissed off conservatives, funded by a guy who wants to privatise the NHS, and now led by a woman who lists as her top three political heroes Margeret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and Vladimir Putin.
Instead of former Labour voters, it seems that Diane James is more interested in winning over the readership of Breitbart, which is a strategy that would have worked a lot better had she instead decided to run for the Republican nomination. In a recent interview with Andrew Neil, James was cornered into admitting that UKIP’s economic policy will be in its nature Libertarian, a clear dividing line between her and most other anti-immigration parties across Europe (pro strong border controls/pro-welfare state).
And that leaves the following question: with Brexit a near certainty, has UKIP outlived its purpose? After all, it is a one issue party who’s one issue has recently been resolved, not to mention its reputation as a personality cult who’s idol (Nigel Farage), has just decided to walk away. Meanwhile, despite what some might say, it seems that Theresa May has chosen to take the task of leaving the European Union fairly seriously, depriving UKIP and its new leader of some much-needed ammunition.
In order to become a credible political force, the party must find a way to move on from simply being pro-Brexit and anti-establishment, and it must come to reflect the views of its target demographic. A recent survey has shown that UKIP and Labour supporters agree more on policy than any other two set of voters. The overwhelming majority of them want to raise taxes on the rich and renationalise the railways. Stats like these should be a wake-up call for Diane James. Instead, she appears to be stuck in a perpetual wet dream about Vladimir Putin.