The conventional view is that it was Ukip which ensured our departure from the EU. I am not wholly convinced by that contention, but I can see it is not without force. Maybe, without Ukip’s success in European elections, Mr Cameron would have felt strong enough to resist the calls for a referendum. But I have a sneaking feeling that he would still have given in to the Tory grassroots. Still, it would be churlish not to give at least some of the credit to Ukip.
And Ukip has done very well in several elections. I know it has not managed to get anyone (other than existing MPs crossing the floor of the House) into the House of Commons, but it consistently outperforms all other parties in European elections and, until recently, has justifiably laid claim to being the third party (ahead of Lib Dems and SNP in the popular vote) in other national elections.
But what now? Ukip tells us that it is not a one issue party. It has policies on everything under the sun. The reality is, however, that its electoral success has been due solely to its opposition to our membership of the EU. It would be fanciful to claim, for instance, that Ukip attracted all those northern working class voters by its support for more grammar schools.
The obvious problem for Ukip now is that it has won its battle. The only issue which made it popular is now dead. The Tories are determined on what has become known as a “hard Brexit”. Ukip can have no complaint about Mrs May’s approach to Brexit. So why should anyone vote Ukip?
Mr Farage advised his party recently to adopt another single issue. Ukip, he said, should talk about nothing but immigration. He was, I suspect, taken in by the arguments of so many remainers to the effect that we only voted to leave the EU because we hate foreigners. He thought they were right. I have to say that I find it just as offensive for Mr Farage to accuse me of thinking about nothing but immigration as I do for Mr Corbyn, Mr Farron, the BBC and, to my great distress, so many of my metropolitan liberal pals to make the same point.
I do accept that those fierce remainers are not really talking about me. How could they be? I was as opposed to the Common Market in 1972 (when immigration was irrelevant because the community was so small) as I am now. But they, and it seems Mr Farage, are sure they are right to think that most of those who voted to leave did so only because they couldn’t stand foreigners.
Ukip has followed its former leader’s advice. It launched its election campaign yesterday by telling us how thoroughly beastly it would be to ethnic minorities if it won the election. The party which used to claim to be a party which favoured liberty told us it would pass laws decreeing how people should dress (just as if we were France not a country committed to liberty). And that is about all Ukip intends to say throughout the campaign.
I do understand their reasoning. They have dropped the idea of taking Tory seats. But traditional Labour supporters in poor areas of the country, they reckon, can think about nothing but their dislike of all foreigners.
I am sorry, but, risking the wrath of those metropolitan liberal friends, I have to say that I think Ukip has completely misunderstood the opinions of its supporters in exactly the way the remainers have. Of course, it would be mad to suggest otherwise, traditional Labour supporters in Labour heartlands do feel strongly about immigration. They probably feel a lot stronger about immigration than do Colonel Blimps in the home counties. But I honestly don’t think that it is the only issue they care about. I would be amazed if they turned out in their droves to vote for Ukip candidates on the grounds that immigration and being generally beastly to foreigners were all that mattered.
If I am right that choosing to be a single issue anti-immigration party will not advance Ukip’s cause, is there some other way it can attract votes?
Actually, I can’t think of any policy which would produce the sort of electoral success Ukip has enjoyed in recent years. Personally, I wouldn’t mind there being a party devoted to trying to keep Mrs May pure on things like liberty and big government (it looks as though she is opposed to the former and very much in favour of the latter and I would much rather that was the other way round). But that won’t produce votes (it certainly won’t in the Labour heartlands).
No, I think the only conclusion must be that Ukip has had its day. I do know that it still has its loyalists who will vote for it to their dying day, whatever policies it advocates. But the mass of the electorate, even traditional Labour voters, can no longer see any point in voting Ukip.