As Steven Woolfe MEP said today “this party is maturing and growing” and it is experiencing growing pains. One of the big announcements, by Patrick O’Flynn MEP, was a commitment to reforming Income Tax thresholds under a UKIP Government. The main element would be a reduction of the 40 per cent rate to 35 per cent up to a ceiling of £55,000. This is a marked departure from the Party’s previous commitment to a flat tax. O’Flynn was challenged on this at a fringe with the IEA, but claimed that a flat tax was an idea that was far too “right wing” for him. Woolfe publicly disagreed with O’Flynn, but heralded this disagreement as showing the difference between UKIP and incumbent parties.
That’s a nice spin but as politicians know that only lasts for so long. The question for UKIP is what will hold them together now they have firmly moved away from being a single-issue party? There were loud cheers in the hall (which was packed with supporters) when luxury goods taxes were announced. Fancy a Berkin Bag? Under UKIP that will attract a higher rate of VAT at 25 per cent. There was also vocal support for returning to state enrolled nurses and reversing the “privatisation” of the NHS by rejecting PFI. The Party seems to be adopting a wholly new model – a classic right-wing model for the masses of low tax, which is paid for by a left-wing model of taxation levied against HNW individuals and multinational corporations. Just because this is a new way of doing politics doesn’t mean it is doomed to fail, but time will tell whether it is cohesive enough to hold together.
You may think that some sort of reckoning awaits, but we’ve only just been through the experience of a nationalist party which was able to make promises to all and largely (final #indyref result aside) getting away with it. One still gets the sense that the Party is attracting all non-establishment voters and their concerns. One person wanted the charging of interest to be abolished, while another called for a new commission to break up the energy companies.
As Tim Montgomerie said, it still isn’t entirely clear if the Party’s self-descriptor of being a ‘libertarian party’ is accurate. On the NHS it is adopting more of the status quo, whilst on house building and social issues it exhibits a marked conservatism with a small C. Whilst John Bickley, the Party’s candidate for Heywood and Middleton, got a round of applause when he claimed “the Labour Party has abandoned the working class”.
And what of the Leader himself? Farage was at pains to stress that support for the Party is not coming solely from Conservative supporters. As he said, “this Party is not about left and right, it’s about right and wrong” – a line that got one of the biggest cheers from the assembled audience. He went on the claim that far too much of the north of England resembles a one-party State. We can expect to see a marked focus from now on targeting Labour incumbents as vigorously as the Conservatives.
Whatever the outcome of this attempt to blend policies and voters, what is clear is that UK politics has ceased to be dull and predictable. No longer can people say there is no difference between the Parties. The sheer noise, scale and vigour of today’s UKIP conference has most definitely announced the arrival of four-party politics.