Clegg started the debate with the timeless cliche “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. Presumably this explains his 2010 election manifesto. Perhaps fortunately, his party looks set for irrelevance at the next election and he’ll soon be back sitting on the back benches, where he belongs. He is clearly a clever guy (speaking five languages, no less) but the electorate can see through a man with the moral rigidity of a squid cheating on his wife.
Farage is (weirdly) more of an active threat, despite having no MPs he has been able to dictate the policy of the Tories and increasingly pressuring Labour to do the same. Pushing for European independence is actually one of their tamer policies, which does nothing but show how arse-clenchingly scary the rest of their policies must be. Basically, they’ll cut tax and red tape on business to keep former banker’s friends in the city happy, leaving workers on the scrap heap with ever fewer rights in the workplace.
Not to mention the views they hold with regards women at work seems set to knock the equality movement back about 80 years. And any party who has to describe themselves as “NOT racist” in 2014 is, quite clearly, racist. So remember next time they’re making disparaging remarks about all muslims being terrorists, they’re NOT racist. Or when they’re accusing all Roma Gypsies of being lazy benefit scroungers: They. Are. Not. Racist.
The trouble is, the party hierarchy are not even trying hard to keep up this facade. Following BNP leader Nick Griffin’s declared bankruptcy, social media was awash with UKIP supporters rejoicing at the news that they might be able to attract former voters over to the ‘acceptable face’ of bigotry. Indeed, it was recently established that the UKIP party chairman had previously marched with the EDL - a group that even Tommy Robinson had to leave because it was “too extreme”. There are even suggestions that the English Defence League are promoting UKIP events, perhaps seeing them as a political ally. Not to mention the UKIP councillors who have been kicked from the party for making Nazi salutes, nor Godfrey Bloom’s large array of blunders.
This causes a huge issue for Farage, trying to gain the right kind of support. There are many insults I would throw at him, but I don’t think racist is one of them, at least not publicly. But, they are seen as the most right-wing of the major political parties so will attract all kinds of extremes of the right, a potentially dangerous group.
All that being said, the bulk of UKIP supporters are not at all like the few examples I’ve listed above. Intriguingly, 75% wouldn't put membership of the EU as one of their top three issues facing the country. A majority also support traditionally left-wing policies of nationalisation in areas such as energy and rail, as well as a boost in the minimum wage. The nature of the party is in itself paradoxical, a supposedly libertarian party should really support a free market of labour. This a side issue for most people though, who join purely due to their distaste of mainstream politicians and an easily vocalised distrust of the EU project.
But as it stands, the party is represented by people who say things like “it’s political correctness gone mad*” whenever someone picks up on their bigoted statement. As such, they just serve to give anyone with genuine grievances about the EU (of which there are many) a bad name. One solution, is to get all parties to agree on a referendum and an open debate as a manifesto issue for the next election. This will basically take it off the political agenda and take away UKIP’s advantage in this area.
More to the point though, no one really cares! Only around a fifth of the electorate highlight the EU as a major issue; UKIP have hijacked the issue to justify Farage being on Question Time every few weeks. Set a date for a referendum in about 2017, debate the next general election on issues that actually matter, and watch UKIP representatives go back to their previous lives - rural pubs’ local racists.
*NB anyone who has ever used this phrase is a moron.