Despite the rise and rise of UKIP it remains a little confused on the matter of Northern Ireland

The more cynical political analyst might conclude there were two Monster raving loony parties standing in the Rochester and Strood byelection this week that resulted in the return to Westminster of Mark Reckless, UKIP’s second MP and a former Conservative.
Standing on a ticket that was principally anti-immigration and anti-Europe – and Reckless got into deserved trouble for suggesting at the hustings that legitimate migrants from Europe and elsewhere would be sent home after staying a “fixed period”, not the official line – this was all about the politics of fear.
The new political kid on the block has maybe a couple of other policies including semi-privatising the NHS but overall there is a sense that apart from being pro-Union and profoundly Eurosceptic, this isn’t a group with any sense of how to govern, and no philosophy other than gaining a significant number of seats.
Although Reckless’ 2900 majority was not as large as predicted, and will no doubt be spun by the Conservatives, there is cause for concern. We should be worried as here in Northern Ireland the yellow and purple army is advancing with potential repercussions for North-South relations and racial harmony.
However the most significant piece of UKIP fall-out, were they to form a coalition with the Conservatives and maybe a light sprinkling of DUPs after the general election, would be the effect on the nature of “the union”. Although the Tories have a longer title, the Conservative and Unionist party, the second part of the phrase is now usually dropped.
Yet an obsession with fencing off the United Kingdom is part and parcel of UKIP’s very identity. And if, as they fervently hope, Britain left Europe, a much tougher border between Northern Ireland and Eire would be created with relations between Belfast and Dublin inevitably becoming less cordial.
Nigel Farage has visited the Province several times with controversy normally part of his hand luggage. Farage’s line on strengthening the borders of Northern Ireland could undoubtedly destabilise joint initiatives with Dublin. His footsoldiers are beginning to get active in places like Lisburn and their choice of candidates doesn’t always seem to be nuanced.
David Jones, who stood successfully as a UKIP councillor in Portadown, County Armagh in May, was condemned for remarks in which he appeared to be downplaying the death of a Catholic RUC officer in October 1998, five weeks after the constable lost an eye and suffered severe wounds from a blast bomb thrown by loyalists.
He said “Unfortunately, when you are standing up for liberties…the cost of those liberties can be very high.” That may be true but the way it was expressed was at the very least unhelpful.
Nigel Farage posted a message on the party’s Northern Ireland website afterwards, pleading: “Vote for a national political party, vote for a Unionist party, vote for one not tainted by any sectarianism of any kind at all but proud to be patriotic.” That may or may not win over republican voters.
A UKIP press officer, Hermann Kelly, recently claimed on Radio Ulster that he supported a united Ireland, so desperate was he to get support from both sides of our divide, but of course the party doesn’t.
Recent recruits unsurprisingly include defectors from the main Unionist parties. UKIP leader David McNarry, Strangford MLA,  quit the Ulster Unionists over an internal argument in 2012 and has made some interesting pronouncements.
After the Scottish Yes vote, he wrote that the people calling for a border poll in Ireland were “political delinquents”. He also, after the Clacton byelection success, called UKIP’s momentum unstoppable.
Other recruits include Robert Hill a former DUP councillor who failed to get re-elected in the local elections this year and who gained publicity for consuming a Bacardi Breezer within the council chamber.
No doubt Farage, whose permanent prop is a pint of beer to indicate his blokeish credentials and disguise the fact he’s a privately educated former stockbroker, would approve.
Political buffoons can of course be a more serious threat that the straight guys – Boris Johnson may be a good Mayor of London but the idea of his presence in No 10, classical education notwithstanding, is worrying.
The reason the idea of the Farageists holding some putative balance of power is so worrying is partly because during the byelection campaign, there appeared to be some sort of overlap with Britain First, a BNP style party, who encouraged their members to print out fliers supporting Reckless.
It was definitely an ill tempered byelection. Members of the Britain First party clashed with anti-racist protesters. And when Labour’s able shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry Tweeted a pic of a modest terraced house in Rochester with a white van in front and three St George’s flags, she had to go as it looked like metropolitan snobbery.
Whatever the real identity of UKIP candidates, and the party is now desperately weeding out the real weirdos, their shtick is the little man against the establishment. As McNarry says, he’s for the underdog. And however unpleasant the pain of the former duopoly of British politics, this new landscape has to be faced up to.
Perhaps the time has come for Mike Nesbitt’s idea of Unionist parties deferring to each other in seats where neither can win, not only to beat the republicans but also UKIP. Otherwise, as the UK Independence Party targets 40 supposedly soft seats in the general election, we may find ourselves with a government that doesn’t just support the union, it imposes it.


  • “there appeared to be some sort of overlap with Britain First” – really? what evidence was there of that? BF wants attention and jumps on bandwagon. No indication UKIP wanted or thought that in anyway helpful. Think Reckless majority a good deal bigger than the two votes BF might have had to offer in the constituency.

  • Morpheus

    I’d say the confusion has been cleared up…anyone surprised?

  • mjh

    The UKIP by-election successes will considerably increase the possibility that the party will commit to standing in all constituencies at the Westminster General Election.

    That could be their biggest political significance for NI. The effectiveness of any unionist unity pacts would be diminished. Whether that would reduce or increase the SF pressure on SDLP votes in North Belfast and FST is open to question.

  • Dan

    [removed] Dan – perilously close to being banned. Play the ball, not the (wo)man.

  • Yusuf B

    Oh my what a poor article… Hang your head in shame Jane Hardy. (Hopefully this isn’t your day job!)

  • Barneyt

    Britain First could and perhaps should be taken to mean, UK first. Many parties and organisations (BBC for example) use GB, UK and sometimes England, interchangeably.

    If however this is a Britain first policy, then NI has been cut loose, but I doubt it.

    If the UKIP are indeed pro-unionist and extend this to NI, any presence here will surely serve to fragment the unionist vote further. Peter Robinson should feel threatened. If I were him, I would be knocking on Monsieur Farages door pressing for a rethink or indeed some level of pact.

    There is surely a hairs breath between the two parties anyhow.

    The election this summer is by far the most interesting for some time.

    The expansion of the SNP in Scotland could wipe out 40 labour seats in Westminister. Bang goes any chance labour may have had of a majority.

    UKIP are demonstrating that they represent a threat to the Tories, not just from defections. They claim to challenge labour in their heartlands, which for me holds some irony. This will reduce the number of Tory seats. UKIP will perhaps gain another 15 to 20 (not the 40 or so predicted).

    The liberals will be pushed to 4th place as they lose voters to both the Tories and more likely, labour.

    We are looking at a series of possible coalitions. Most obvious is LabourSNP. May not be enough though.

    Next coalition is UKIPTory. The NI unionists may get to the table, but not if the UKIP effect is felt in the unionist communities on this side of the water.

    The Liberals will suffer the most and are less likely to become king makers this time around. They may be drawn into the LabourSNP camp, but as a bit player. Their little jolly with Cameron will not serve them well in any way.

    The greatest irony is set to take stage, with the SNP having perhaps the biggest possible impact south of the border. This will depend if the labour losses are isolated to Scotland however and if labour do make Liberal gains.

    As I say, interesting times are ahead, and we are now perhaps talking about a 4 1/2 party system. Sorry Liberals.

  • Dan

    Isn’t it acceptable on Slugger to have an inkling of the background, political or otherwise, of those who publish their opinion pieces, inviting comment?…most especially when that opinion piece is quite openly criticising as ‘loonies’ those who might support UKIP.

  • aor26

    This paragraph caught my eye and I had to re-read several times because I was unsure – maybe my eyes were deceiving me but you say

    ”Nigel Farage posted a message on the party’s Northern Ireland website afterwards, pleading: “Vote for a national political party, vote for a Unionist party, vote for one not tainted by any sectarianism of any kind at all but proud to be patriotic.” That may or may not win over republican voters.

    Republicans voting for UKIP a possibility ?? Have I misinterpreted , are you being sarcastic there ??

  • Superfluous

    I took it as sarcasm.

  • Superfluous

    For UKIP to get 20 seats and Lib Dems to be pushed into fourth the Lib Dems need to lose almost 40 seats – I’d say almost all going to Labour. Given that Labour and the Tories are neck and neck in the polls we could have a really hung parliament – with Labour needing to get into bed with the various nationalists and the remnants of the Lib Dems.

    By the way, the various betting markets have UKIP in for about 7 seats (I thought this was incredibly low) but quite a few companies/markets agree with each other.

  • There is a party that wants to split up the Union, the English Democrats. They are the home of quite a few politicians who were kicked out of UKIP for being too extreme, such as Julia Gaspar, the former UKIP chair in Oxford.

  • Robin Keogh

    No need to be nasty

  • Abucs

    Interesting to read the comment –

    “this isn’t a group with any sense of how to govern, and no philosophy other than gaining a significant number of seats.”

    So basically they are just like the long established parties then?

  • Barneyt

    Then again Superf, come voting day, many refer to type. I wonder how may Libs will move to labour. You’d think it would be their natural default position, but will some voters be prepared to now vote for Tory full strength than Tory light (as liberals presently are)

  • Chingford Man

    Why did Ms Hardy think she had a profound insight worth sharing? Maybe one shouldn’t expect it from an old hand on the Bellylaugh, but her opening sentence suggests she knows nothing about the subject. The jibe about the “loony” UKIP really is so 2010/2011.

    Today it is self-evident that UKIP is a deadly serious force that has put on 20,000 members in the last year and is busily colonising Tory and Labour territory. Even at the start of this year, no one thought that 2 Tory MPs would both defect to UKIP but also defeat their old party at by-elections.

    UKIP is fast evolving a distinct political agenda. For where it may lead, I recommend the thoughtful acceptance speeches of Carswell and Reckless when they retained their seats. I bet Ms Hardy hasn’t seen either of them.

    I spent several Saturdays on the doorsteps of Rochester & Strood for UKIP. I can inform Ms Hardy that there was NO link whatsoever between UKIP and the Britain First micro-breakaway of the BNP. (So low profile was Britain First that 3 UKIP people posed with the BF candidate without realising who she was. Nick Robinson of the BBC did the same.) I haven’t heard of BF putting out any fliers but it would not have been done with the permission of the Reckless campaign, not least because we had enough workers to hand out our own stuff.

    Oh and what on earth is a government that doesn’t just support the union but “imposes” it? Total gibberish. Ms Hardy should stay inside her comfort zone next time.

  • Nicholas Whyte

    I wouldn’t read too much into two leaders of UK parties comparing notes with each other. If Diane Dodds were to join the EFDD group it would be a different matter, but I think that’s unlikely. UKIP and the DUP are potential competitors for goodies from a minority government after May, and UKIP will presumably run against (at the very least) Jim Shannon in Strangford. They may be coming from similar directions but their paths are different.

  • 88vvv89

    Why a party who have signed up 20,000 members in the past year would choose men in bomber jackets to hand out leaflets for them, I don’t know. Maybe they’re all ”private school bankers” and let the common folk do the dirty work???