Friday, 21 June 2013

UKIP: ship to leave sinking rat? 

 Friday 21 June 2013
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Such has become his cult-like status that whenever this blog dares to criticise the sainted Farage, the e-mails erupt, and there are usually a few on the forum who rush to his defence.

Never mind that, compared with other figures and institutions, our criticism of the man is relatively restrained despite being, as leader of the premier anti-EU party, properly a subject of this blog. And it is easy to lose sight of the fact that, where Mr Farage is concerned, there is a lot to criticise. If I chose to "do a number on him", I could be far more strident.

But just because I'm not going to delve into his more unsavoury affairs, does not mean others are not going to. And evidence of that comes today from The Mirror which has a front-page lead and a major inside story on his rather dubious tax affairs.

The story is picked up by the Daily Mail and, by the end of the day, will have spread further, retailing the hypocrisy of a man who has set up a personal tax avoidance scheme on the Isle of Man, despite having been an unspoken critic of tax avoidance in the past.

We've known about this for some time, and the less than distinguished affairs of Farage Limited, on which the Mirror offers some detail. We are also aware that this is by no means the full extent of the story. It is quite conceivable that VAT might appear in some future critical stories, or even a television documentary or two.

To an extent, it was always inevitable that, as soon as UKIP achieved any success, its high-profile leader was going to come under close scrutiny from the media, but those of us who have been close to the man have long been conscious that there is plenty of material for the media to work on, which will be used against him and the party at appropriate times.

And bad as the current story is – even if Mr Farage cares to dismiss his actions as a "mistake" – one can't help but feel that the more serious political issue is the way David Cameron is being allowed to undermine the core UKIP "offer" without any serious challenge.

Through its Let Britain Decide campaign, the Conservatives are positioning themselves as the pro-referendum party, and stealing the rhetoric from the mouth of the UKIP leader, while Mr Cameron's hijacking of the EU-US trade deal is undermining UKIP's claim that leaving the EU gives better trading opportunities to the UK.

Yet in a chaotic and badly-designed website, Farage's party offers only one lightweight story from its lacklustre trade spokesman William Dartmouth.

Given the importance of the G8 summit, it would perhaps have been better strategy for Farage and his team to have focused on this issue, rather than to go stomping off to Aberdeen, distancing himself from the action at a crucial time.  UKIP should have been the "go to" source on the trade deal, but is barely to be seen.

Later though, reinforcing his cult status, Farage addressed a live audience, telling it that this country "needs to be run by the people for the benefit of all the people in it not just the privileged few". With the revelations in the Mirror and elsewhere today, that bold assertion now looks a trifle thin.

In truth, Farage is now looking as shabby as any other of our more seedy politicians, turning from an asset to an electoral liability, while UKIP as a political party, increasingly tribal, seems just like the rest.

Gradually, unless there is a heroic effort by UKIP and its supporters, we may see the electoral calculus change. For some time it has been possible that the "UKIP effect" might undermine the Conservatives and let Labour into office. But, as Ed Miliband looks less and less credible as a prime minister (not that he ever did), UKIP's discredited leader might give a triumphant David Cameron his opening.

Such a scenario is the one most likely to see a rigged referendum which we are doomed to lose, making UKIP responsible for setting back the eurosceptic cause for a generation.

Sadly, as long as Mr Farage is at the helm of UKIP, the die is cast. There are too many more unsavoury revelations to come out of the woodwork for his credibility to survive. Mr Mercer will prove to be the model, another man to live by the press release, only to die by it. 

Party members, therefore, are going to have to decide whether their cause is to advance, in which case they are going to have to address their leadership deficit. The UKIP ship, it would seem, must brace itself to leave the sinking rat.


Richard North 21/06/2013