|Adverse Perception of UKIP Conservative Party leader Colin Craig fancies his party as a New Zealand equivalent of the United Kingdom Independence Party. Which begs the question, is it? What is UKIP about, and is Craig actually correct about this?
Founded in 1993, the United Kingdom Independence Party is Eurosceptic- that is, it has an aversion to the European Union, which the United Kingdom joined forty years ago, back in 1973. It doesn't like its proposals for monetary union, a single European currency, the European Court of Human Rights and other examples of what it sees as the "infringement" of British national sovereignty from the European Community's headquarters in Brussels. Over the last two decades, this has become a somewhat arcane flashpoint for internal tensions within the British Conservative Party, which spent most of the nineties and noughties tearing itself apart over what should be the appropriate distance or proximity to the European Union. For "British", read English- Scotland has no problem with Brussels at all and will probably seek EU membership if its forthcoming independence referendum is successful.
UKIP is a centre-right political party, thus competing with the Tories for centre-right votes. It is anti-immigration, predictably favours corporation tax and public service cuts, supports school vouchers and educational deregulation (although the United Kingdom already has its own version of charter schools), opposes multiculturalism, identity cards, genetically modified food- and supports labelled battery farmed meat, nuclear power, citizens referenda and climate change denialism...as well as same-sex marriage.
To the New Zealand reader, this probably sounds like the more populist elements of ACT before the party self-destructed during the Key administration's first term here. However, there is a difference. ACT sees itself as National's logical coalition partner. UKIP views the Cameron era Tories as ideologically impure, given its embrace of cultural diversity, marriage equality, climate change and environmentalism.
Paradoxically, given its Europhobia, the party also stands for European Parliament elections, given that is a proportional-representation electoral system. However, when it comes to English elections, First Past the Post makes it difficult for new political parties to break the current Labour/Conservative/Liberal Democrat trio of major English political parties. UKIP may not end up winning any parliamentary seats at the next British general election, but it may split the centre-right vote in marginal electorates enough to let Labour back into power and reduce the scale of predicted Liberal Democrat electoral wipeout, despite UKIP's antipathy for the Liberal Democrats and their social liberalism. If this occurs on a wide enough scale, the Cameron administration may end up only experiencing a single term of office, much like Edward Heath in the early seventies. UKIP has also had some success in local council elections.
UKIP also has some younger, libertarian right members, who see nothing wrong at all with marriage equality, although other UKIP members are outright homophobes. However, in September 2013, UKIP leader Nigel Farrage was interviewed by Simon Edge in the UK gay magazine Attitude. In that interview, Farrage stated that he had had no problem with civil partnerships and if it weren't for the European Court of Human Rights, he'd have no problem with marriage equality either. Unfortunately, as he has acknowledged elsewhere, UKIP does contain some extremists and oddballs, although commendably, it is committed to purging entryist members of the neofascist British National Party.
Finally, though, are Colin Craig's comparisons justifiable? Unlike the United Kingdom's local governments, regional parliaments and European Union elections, New Zealand is a fairly centralised unitary state. Under MMP, that tends to mean a large centre-right party (National), large centre-left opposition/alternative government parties (Labour and the Greens), indigenous political parties due to the Maori electorates (Mana and Maori) and vestigial, transient microparties (ACT and United Future). As the MMP Review indicated, much of the general public are tired of artificial microparties with no electoral mandate being formed by arrogant party list misfits from quite different political parties and want an end to top-up list seats for sub-threshold parties- which would effectively mean that it would just be Colin Craig if he ever succeeds in winning a parliamentary seat. Note also, Colin Craig is actively attacking National and New Zealand First in order to carve out a voter share, in effect cannibalising the centre-right vote. But, it must be asked, is there a sizeable enough fundamentalist political party vote out there? ACT survived because it combined fiscal conservatism and a degree of social liberalism, however sabotaged and compromised by the likes of Owen Jennings, Stephen Franks, Muriel Newman and David Garrett. National's voter share is still robust, unlike that of the British Conservatives, and there is minimal voter bleed observable from that voter share.
UKIP and the New Zealand Conservatives are not in comparable situations, so any simplistic comparison is spurious. While UKIP may find a niche for itself as a centre-right spoiler party, the New Zealand Conservatives may find that their alleged electoral niche is far too small to be viable.
Recommended: Simon Edge: "Mr Gay UKIP?" Attitude 235 (September 2013): 97-102. James MacIntyre: "Putting the Tories Right" Prospect: 20.06.2012: http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/magazine/ukip-rise-farage-labour-stuart-wheeler-dorries
Not Recommended: UKIP: http://www.ukip.org Conservatives (NZ): http://www.conservativeparty.org.nz Craig Young - 31st January 2014