Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, has caused quite a stir with his complaint that his party is being damaged by “Walter Mittys seeking a role in politics”. He has pledged in an interview with The Times to improve the quality of candidates and party discipline.
This follows on the heels of several controversies. A councillor was recently suspended for linking the New Year floods to gay marriage. The MEP Godfrey Bloom, who resigned the party whip last year after jokingly calling its female members “sluts”, recently compared a student with disabilities to Richard III.
The Times thinks that Farage seems to have concluded that “to make Ukip successful it needs to be more than a fringe party”. He also clearly believes that “an improvement in Ukip’s credibility and its resilience in a general election will be worth any offence he causes to the old guard”. The problem is that every step it takes towards the centre undermines its rationale for existence.
While it “makes sense” as a fringe party, an attempt to move towards the mainstream and become ‘Newkip’ would only end up splitting the centre-right vote.
It’s clear that Farage “is succumbing to the allure of prospective office”, says Michael White in The Guardian. There is even the chance that Farage could end up “holding the balance of power at Westminster”.
Another possibility is that Farage hates the Conservatives so much that this move from the fringes is designed to help him “to harry, humiliate and horrify the Cameroons even more successfully than Ukip and its fellow-travellers on the Tory backbenches are already doing”.
But not all the changes Ukip wants will be in a centrist direction. According to The Daily Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan, Farage plans to press Cameron “harder on deficit reduction and spending cuts”. He will “strike out in favour of cuts to the NHS, pensions, and all the other protected areas of public spending”.
The aim is to put Cameron and Osborne “on the spot every time the conversation turns to the economy… forcing the debate about quite why health, pensions, foreign aid should be protected at all”.