Friday, 21 September 2012

Off the beaten track. For one day at least.

Today I want to look at something completely different. It's not even essentially tied to military matters, though politics does affect the military.
On a day of rest, I was having a nice late-morning snooze with the BBC news channel on. I was awoken around midday by the sound of loud applause, which turned out to be a live crowd at the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) conference, as their leader Nigel Farage took to the stage.
Farage and the UKIP provide an interesting insight into how political parties develop and evolve over time. Certainly the evidence of that was on display today. Before continuing I should point out that personally I'm not attached to any one individual party. They all have certain strengths and weaknesses, and I'm rather of the belief that the changing nature of the world and the UK demands different policies (and as such different parties) at different times.
Watching Farage then it was obvious that he's been taking lessons. In the past I remember him being a lot more nervous looking when delivering speeches and had an unfortunate tendency to ramble when talking, producing a continuous stream of words that made it difficult to separate the individual points.
Talking today he was much more confident and made adept use of pauses in his speech, both to allow the words to sink in, to break up the individual points, and to allow his audience to react. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start.
This is a crucial point to consider when assessing political parties as they evolve. Leaders are incredibly important, because until a party has fully established itself (and even in some cases long afterwards) most voters have little idea who the main members are that will be running for office.
The leader is the point of focus and - rightly or wrongly - largely shapes the impression that people have of a particular party. The leader then must appear confident in his opinions, passionate even, intelligent, able to debate his points and counter opponents complaints strongly, and not be flustered easily. On the evidence I saw today, Farage has gone some way to building that image. There is still some way to go though.
The party itself also appears to have undergone some changes. Previously UKIP has been seen as a single policy party (leaving the EU) in the manner that most political parties start off. Lately it appears UKIP has developed more of a broad manifesto, touching on every aspect of government. This is quite an important stage for political parties as it helps to develop trust in the party and show that they have a plan that goes beyond just the main issue for which they fight.
Looking at some of UKIP's policies they still need some work. Most of the policies are quite broad in their language and as such details are quite sparse. There's a lot of talk of overhauling this and reforming that, but without specifically mentioning what reforms will be introduced.
It seems political parties are very good at talking about cutting "red tape", but without being able to identify what that red tape actually is. And as always with political parties there are a number of policy suggestions that should ring alarm bells. Not because they're inherently bad in principle, more because they often reject the reality that governments, Prime Ministers and Presidents across the world often find themselves constrained by things outside of their control once they enter power.
Take the UKIP's defence policy for example. The main element of it is a plan to increase defence spending by 40%. While that sounds great on paper, but it's also almost completely unworkable given the current budget situation. Unless significant savings could be found elsewhere (in the region of £16 billion), it's a policy they would almost certainly have to back down on. It also takes no account of whether the UK actually needs an armed forces of that size.
And that's why it should ring alarm bells. It's indicative of a policy that has been written with little thought to the complex difficulties that government budgets and policies entail. This is often another hump that younger political parties have to overcome; finding people to convert general party ideology into workable and realistic legislation proposals.
So how likely is it that we could see Mr. Farage standing on the doorstep of number 10 Downing Street, waving to the assembled media? Unless he's shaking David Camerons hand, the answer is unlikely. At least for now.
There's been speculation in the press that UKIP have conducted talks of some kind with the Conservatives, talk which Mr. Farage denies. A coalition is probably the best shot that the UKIP has of getting into the corridors of power. With the Liberal Democrats having had a rough ride in the current coalition, it's likely that in the future they would seek to partner with Labour, who are much closer to them in political ideology.
The Conservatives meanwhile seem to have a lot in common with UKIP, at least on paper. While Cameron seems opposed to leaving the EU, the lure of power has a magic ability to make parties and politicians turn against some of their principles.
In the last general election the UKIP polled almost one million votes. It's likely given their greater prominence now and with the effort they've put into brand building that they'll poll even more at the next election, and possibly even win some seats.
This is comparable to nationalistic parties in other countries that have seen their popularity rise as voters lash back against the push by many European leaders for greater integration, including handing over many sovereign aspects of government to a centralised European leadership.
This is an interesting time for Europe. On the one hand political elites, especially in exporting countries like Germany, are keen to see much greater unity, no doubt with them heading up many of the needed institutions. Meanwhile there is quite a significant popular opposition to these measures among the citizens of Europe, even in some of the countries whose politicians are most keen to integrate.
Europe could go either way. A lot of people seem to think it's inevitable that Europe will coalesce into a federation of some kind. I personally believe that the exact opposite will happen, and that in time Europe will drift further apart, with increasing fractures between nations causing rising tensions across the region for the next few decades.
The growth of what are currently small parties, many of which hold very strong nationalistic views, will be a key part of this. Likely through a myriad of coalitions across various European governments, I can see the strength of anti-EU feeling among Europes citizens coming to the fore front and being acknowledged by political elites.
The economic woes of the Eurozone only further serve to convince the populace that European integration is a bad idea.


  1. Interesting piece Chris. It will be Interesting to see how many seats in parliament UKIP can get, if any, in the next election, though I still think Lib dems will be a solid third. The more interesting election for UKIP will be the European arena where they are currently second behind the Conservatives. The more concerning issue is the fact that of the top three parties none seem to have any radical clear cut plans to reform government and get the economy going again.

    On a side note I saw you joined in on the "debate" between me and S O on TD....

  2. Yeah, part of the problem that parties have is that total votes are not as important as concentrating votes into any one constituency. I think UKIP might do ok at the next election though. I think the issues that Europe has been having with the Euro might turn people towards UKIP, even though the Euro and the EU are not essentially tied together.

    And yes, I did see the debate you got into with S O. I gave up reading his blog a while back.

  3. Good post Mr. Chris.
    I assume that UKIP want to increase defence spending by 40% because our armed forces will need to undertake more and larger autonomous ops, as leaving the EU would put an end to a lot of the reciprocal defence agreements (at least the ones not directly tied to NATO). Also, I wonder what we pay into the EU wrt to defence-type expenditure (Def industry, foreign policy, standing/quick reaction forces?).

  4. Hello Dave,

    I think - judging by their general policy layouts - that it's probably just a populist move, e.g. they think people will see them as supporting the armed forces and putting the "great" in Great Britain (or insert alternative cliche here).