There are two very different worlds I flirt between. One is the political world I follow and engage with on Twitter: politically motivaited, geeky, even obsessed. People who work for politicians, for think tanks, for NGOs and other government-related bodies. The other is the real world, where politics seemingly crosses people’s minds less frequently than it takes for a general election to come around.
The former world hold UKIP in a much more positive light – even from those on the left. The former see UKIP as a eurosceptic force, possibly full of disillusioned ex-Tories, free-marketers, libertarians, classical liberals and an older generation of social conservatives. Which I have found to be entirely accurate.
The only issue – and the irony for the party who position themselves out of the Westminster bubble – is that when you step outside SW1, the opinions towards UKIP stiffen up slightly.
I am sure kippers will put this down to the people I’m taking about – mostly Londoners – being members of the metropolitan liberal elite. The types who class Tories as a plague the face of the earth, let alone much else on the right. I’m sure kippers will dismiss this by saying that in the countryside, in the village pub, in the rural towns, things are different. Which may well be the case, but ignoring the perception amongst everybody else is a badgame.
Because that perception is dangerous. I have been in conversations with intelligent people who have a rounded understanding of politics and their political views, and the mention of UKIP instantly brings about a look that a) instantly dismisses every point you may have been making and b) treats you as a crazy, homophobic, racist. When in conversations with people with a lesser indulgence in politics, the opinion is that the party deserve nothing more than to be lumped together with the BNP.
So what is there to do? It’s a tricky one considering a number of things.
UKIP’s positioning as the alternative party puts them in a catch-22. First, they don’t want to be seen as the focus groupped, PR-dominated, slimy and vacuous party that fill our cabinet today. Yet, the party needs more than anything some effective PR. Second, their avoidance of being lumped with the Westminster bubble will only ever work if outside of that bubble they are respected as a serious party.
UKIP have placed third in a handful of polls over the past six months, but unless their public perception changes, I cannot see them ever seucring that position or their electoral performances ever reflecting that.
The question and test for UKIP now is whether to perform as well electorally as a major party, will they have to start acting like one as well? Because at the moment, their outsider card is only going to get them so far, and I can’t see it materialising in the way that many will hope.