The Death Throes of UKIP

It’s over. UKIP has had an exceptional rise and fall. Coming from nowhere to coalesce voters from the right and the left behind a populist, anti-immigration party, UKIP became the third largest party by votes in the UK and won a nationwide election (albeit, an European one). Its rise was particularly significant when Clacton MP Douglas Carswell exchanged blue for purple, and the party reached its zenith when the referendum called to combat their rise led to the achievement of their ultimate aim. Yet UKIP’s pulse has seemingly been ended in fittingly symmetric fashion by the departure of their sole MP.

UKIP’s main problem has been in its very nature. In order to suppress gaffes from low level members and politicians, Nigel Farage carefully groomed his and his party’s image to the extent where it became the Nigel Farage Party. Farage’s exit has thrust the party’s problems onto centre stage, and has lessened their ability to ride out problems. Previously, a visit to the pub, a quick statement, and a tour-de-force of personality were sufficient to convince voters to keep voting for UKIP – Diane James and Paul Nuttall have lacked the political ability to follow in his footsteps. Without Farage, UKIP lack both direction and a clear spokesman.

One claim is that UKIP’s decline in some polls and their failure to up their vote in recent by-elections is that, with Brexit, the party has become a victim of its own success. This is partially true, but it’s a wider issue. The problem that UKIP have is that prior to the referendum, they failed to diversify their party message by focusing on other issues. The public simply had a lack of clarity on what UKIP stood for other than Brexit, and so the implementation of Brexit will see the point of UKIP decrease – not because they are victims of their own success, but because they failed to present a broad spectrum of policies. Likewise, it is also due to their failure to react to Brexit. Short of their insistence on strict controls on immigration and a commitment to a ‘Hard Brexit’, it is unclear what policies might incentivise someone to move to UKIP now from another party.

Failure to diversify their message has also meant that they have allowed themselves to be outmanoeuvred politically. With the Conservatives committed to delivering Brexit, it seems a logical disconnect to say that only voting UKIP can ensure that it gets delivered. Likewise, with Theresa May’s willingness to go down the Hard Brexit route, UKIP’s ability to campaign on that is weakened. If a mainstream party are adopting a similar set of policies to a less well established party’s entire platform, that will severely weaken the newer party.

Infighting (literally in the case of Steven Woolfe) has also seen the party shed recognisable figures and credibility in recent months. Woolfe, Diane James, Aaron Banks and now Carswell are the main figures who’ve left UKIP, which combined with Farage’s departure from party politics has left UKIP rudderless and without much claim to the personal votes of its leaders. Just two high profile figures remain, and they represent a sense of why UKIP are falling behind: Paul Nuttall, who proved less popular (by a margin of 12%) than a scandal-ridden arch-Remain Labour candidate in one of the most strongly pro-Brexit areas of the country, at a time when Labour are at their least popular; and Suzanne Evans, who was much less popular with UKIP members than a man who was 12% behind a scandal-ridden arch-Remain Labour candidate in one of the most strongly pro-Brexit areas of the country. This, at a time when Labour are at their least popular.

Not only has infighting summarily rid UKIP of its most well-known and experienced politicians, it has also made them appear amateurish. Rather than a party that could successfully hold the government to account, they look like a squabbling fringe party. Carswell’s loss is a blow in this regard. As a sensible, appealing, moderate voice he gave UKIP a chance of seeming electable and professional. Without him, and with the party membership’s general animosity towards him, that feeling has evaporated. The loss of Carswell also has a more location-specific effect. Given his success in 2014 and 2015, Clacton seems unlikely to return to UKIP’s hands in 2020.

Clacton directs our attention to another interesting point: UKIP’s inability to win seats. Whether it is their campaigning, the lack of a concentrated group of supporters, or a lack of credible candidates, UKIP have made a habit of snatching 2nd place finishes in winnable seats. If they had won more MPs in 2015, UKIP would probably have gone from strength to strength and may even have ended up in a coalition government. Yet their failure to win seats prevented a core of MPs emerging to offset the impact of the loss of Carswell et al. Likewise, it made UKIP’s relationship with its parliamentary delegate (Carswell) seem like an inability to manage a Parliamentary group, weakening its professionalism.

Finally, their lack of electoral success speaks to a third problem: if UKIP prove unable to convert support into MPs, then seats where UKIP are currently viable may see voters who have switched to UKIP from mainstream parties return, so that their second preference has a shot at winning the seat. This loss will begin in seats where there is a smaller presence, but UKIP should be wary of the potential for a massive shift away from them towards the established parties, as a result of tactical voting.

So, do UKIP have any hope? Simply, yes. They have built an impressive base and a strong political image, and if they wish to remain relevant, they must build on that. Other single issue approaches might be possible: becoming the party of English nationalism might be a viable option – particularly in a growing era of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish nationalism. Generally, a wider platform is needed for UKIP to become relevant in the long term. Two potential solutions seem to emerge here: the nativist, anti-globalist party, representing a push back against free trade and pushing for the protection of British values; and the libertarianism represented by likes of Carswell. The former seems a more likely route, but unless they act soon, there may not be a credible party left to rescue.

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PSHE: How to Deliver the Skills Education Does Not Teach

We all remember PSHE. That lesson no one really cared about; where you learned “important” things like how far a paper aeroplane made out of a leaflet about drugs could fly, how to put a condom on various items of fruit, and, most crucially, that some girl with appalling acting skills was crying in a petrol station café because they had done x thing that you were being advised against (and yes, it was always the same video). Did anyone ever learn anything useful in PSHE? Anything that helped with life in the real world? Most people did not.

PSHE is an awkward, cumbersome mixture of a group of students who don’t care, a teacher who (for the most part) does not want to be there, and a series of embarrassing topics that most teenagers think they already know everything about. The topics covered in PSHE are the sort of stuff that schools should be teaching, but if we really care about our young people then we need to accept that there are more pieces of information they need than can be taught in that environment.

Life skills education is sorely lacking in our schools. Yes, you may be able to write a perfect Shakespearian sonnet. Yes, you may know all of the stages of a star’s life. Yes, you may be able to differentiate in a million-and-one different ways. But can you do the important things? Did school ever teach you the best way to do an interview? Did it ever teach you how to balance a budget, or even make a budget for that matter? What about signing up for a local doctor, or registering to vote, or renting a house?

Our schools fail to deliver life skills because they can’t deliver them. If PSHE taught us one thing, it’s that skills need to be delivered in a way that is fun and interactive and innovative, and not through meaningless embarrassing role plays that will be forgotten the instant they are over. It also taught us that learning about life skills issues shouldn’t be compulsory, because the thing that derailed the lessons for those who were interested in learning was the behaviour of those who weren’t.

So, if schools don’t deliver these skills, and if it’s not as simple as just adding extra topics into PSHE, what is the solution?

In short, the solution is to provide those skills in a non-compulsory, informal session: life skills workshops. Imagine an after-school club which delivered life skills – if you wanted to learn about the topic that was on offer that week then you would be able to go, if you didn’t feel like that was something important to you, then you would not have to. It would be an environment conducive to learning, to trying new things, and to delivering the crucial skills that all young people should have when they leave school. Workshops where, rather than one of your teachers issuing a boring diatribe about how important something is, passionate, enthusiastic volunteers and experts would give real, practical, hands-on tips, advice and guidance.

There are a vast array of subjects that could be covered. Everything from everyday skills like cooking, cleaning, managing your money, to bigger civic issues like learning about politics and how to impact the society around you. It simply isn’t the case that young people are disinterested in learning about life skills, but the fact of the matter is that we, as a society, are failing the next generation by providing them with an education system that sees them leave school without the skills they need to take on life’s realities. Life skills workshops would offer a solution to remedy that problem – delivering skills in voluntary, informal, useful sessions that most young people might actually want to attend.

The problem may lie in our education system, but the solution lies adjacent to it; bringing workshops that make a real difference and deliver real skills to schools, in such a format that every child who wants to participate can, and those who do not want to can choose not to attend. This is a solution that could work nationally, but we can make it work in Southampton first. Delivering these workshops successfully on a local level would be a great first step towards getting them delivered nationally, so that every child, in every town, city, and country of the United Kingdom can have the opportunity to learn skills that will make a real difference to them. We, as a generation who didn’t benefit from receiving this kind of workshop, owe it to the next generation to make that happen.

How the Boundary Changes Will Revitalise British Democracy

The independent boundary review has been a source of controversy in recent months, and yet it seems like a perfectly reasonable idea. Putting aside the specifics of the changes – whether or not you think certain wards would be better in certain constituencies – and looking at them purely objectively, there seem to be far more advantages than downsides to the changes.

Firstly, equalising the size of constituencies seems a perfectly reasonable democratic desire. If we want a democracy that fairly represents its electors then it would make sense for every representative to speak for as similar number of constituents as possible. Accusations that this is unfair because recent changes to the Electoral Register have left people out of the figures are not entirely unfounded, but the simple fact is that the best aggregator of how many electors are in a constituency has to be the number of registered electors at the previous election – this isn’t a perfect figure, but it’s not as if these boundaries couldn’t be altered in future to account for population changes.

In this sense then, the boundary changes will create a more equal representation and thus a fairer and better democracy – unless of course, one believes that the electors of the Isle of Wight should have around 5 times less representation than those of Na h-Eileanan an Iar, or that English electors should have 1.3 times less representation than Welsh electors on average.

If we accept it reasonable to have equal representation for every elector in the country, then the main objection to the concept of the boundary changes must be that reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600 will adversely affect the quality of representation.

This argument doesn’t seem to stand up to scrutiny, if only because fewer MPs ties in with the increasingly decentralised approach to power being taken by government in recent years. If it follows that fewer MPs leads to further devolution of areas of legislative control to regional centres of power, then we will see an increasingly important local government – able to make a real difference to its constituents. This will have benefits for both local government and local people: local government will have more power to influence policies in the local area and thus will be taken more seriously by voters, bringing more scrutiny, accountability and higher turnouts; while local people will benefit from having a much more personalised system of policy-making, where they can influence their legislators because they are based much closer to them, and where they can enjoy policies that are inherently grounded in local contexts and needs.

Representation will also be improved if the public have more faith in their representatives. One of the biggest concerns people have about MPs is that they simply cost too much. For these people, the boundary changes must surely be a way to reduce the costs associated with government. 50 fewer MPs means 50 fewer MPs’ salaries; 50 fewer teams of MPs’ staff; 50 fewer sets of expenses; 50 fewer offices – the list can go on and on.

With a reduced number of MPs we can see a further decentralisation of powers to local government and a resultant revitalisation of British democracy – where the decisions that affect Southampton get made in Southampton, and important decisions on local policy get made in local areas across the United Kingdom. Boundary changes will lead to a more representative and democratic Britain – a Britain where central government costs less and local government does more, and that can only be a good thing.