Ukip have constructed one of most effective political marketing campaigns in recent British history, and at the heart of it is a great lie. They claim to be libertarians, and this is supposedly illustrated by (among other things) a recent shallow commitment from Nigel Farage that he would like to legalise cannabis if he ever actually achieved power. This goes against official party policy, and was made in a cosy, dare I say metropolitan, setting to a liberal journalist, and was clearly designed to engender an image of freedom of speech in Ukip - one at odds with other parties. He went further, and said that he wanted a party of 'freethinkers'. This is against all we have come to know about Ukip. Only now, in the aftermath of their supposed success in recent local council elections, can we finally discover a cloying, socially conservative consensus within the party, which has come to despise any dissent from progressive voices.
It is worrying to see Ukip, who were until recently derided for being backwards, parochial reactionaries, being deferred to by a sycophantic media and given almost weekly slots on formerly serious programmes like Question Time and undue prominence on the news channels. Despite the fact that there has still been no tidal wave of popular support (and they still rank below even the Greens in numbers on MPs and Councillors), Ukip are consulted on almost every issue, even those which fall outside the 'Europe and Foreigners' brief to which they consign themselves. They need to be criticised for what they are: a nostalgic protest party, whose support is comprised of bandwaggoners, what-nexters, racists, homophobes, nationalists and other ugly stereotypes which the mainstream Right had hoped they'd banished after a long and difficult period of de-nastification.
Many politically active young people found themselves drifting towards Ukip in recent months, as they represented a surprisingly 'revolutionary' message (which always appeals to the rebellious). Their seemingly inexorable rise, and hugely increasing political gravity (not to mention the fact that they threw the best parties) all had an effect in swelling the ranks of their youth support. People from all political persuasions were drawn to the misty-eyed rhetoric and cloaked nationalism to which Ukip readily subscribed. But, despite the party's strange fascination with Muslims and homosexuals, social liberals were sure that it could become a 'broad church', and that it was only a lone wing of extremists making all the noise about stopping immigration and bringing back hanging.
They were wrong. I can claim some personal knowledge of this, because two of my allies and comrades have recently been sacked from positions within Ukip's youth wing, Young Independence.
The first of these two is Olly Neville, who was Chairman of YI before his deposition for supporting same-sex marriage. In stating his personal views in an interview, he caught the attention of the National Executive Council - Ukip's over-powerful ruling body. His election (by 63% of the vote on the highest turnout YI had ever recorded) was disputed. He was criticised in behind-the-scenes e-mails sent between nervous acolytes, which he got hold of and published after his dismissal. Finally, he was removed from his position at the behest of party bigwigs. This, of course, was a deeply dishonest and shady action - and belies any notion of 'new politics', or 'straight talking' which the party faithful endlessly repeat.
The second is Gareth Shanks, who was elected unopposed to the role of YI Treasurer. He has been the longstanding chairman of Friends of Palestine in Ukip, and his Twitter spats with the hard-line Zionists of the party (Friends of Israel in Ukip) had enlivened many a dull online day. His support of the Palestinian people had led to tense confrontations in which he had annoyed several of the Israelophiles at the top of the party. His assumption of office, therefore, was blocked by the same cabal of Ukip Executives.
The list of these people, who are so happy to pronounce on the political future of others, makes very interesting reading. Topping the bill is Farage himself; a risible character, whose tired populism and simplistic worldview are mistaken for charisma for those who have no experience of the buffoons political illiterates love to idolise. He is also an alumnus of the elite Dulwich College, and very far from the man in the street he and his ilk like to fetishise. In the same group are several ex-Conservatives, one of which is Neil Hamilton, who was disgraced in the Major era. The grotesque irony of such a toxic man holding the power to excommunicate party members, because of the perceived 'embarrassment' they have created, is beyond parody. He and his battle-axe wife are now honorary chairmen of Young Independence, much to the rightful derision of the Twittersphere.
Ukip has always been a joke, with pub stops, cartoonish leadership and incessantly blaming everything on Europe. But now its supporters have begun to believe the myth that the party can actually change things. This is damaging as it gives credence to some decidedly nasty views to which increasing numbers of the party faithful subscribe. The sooner we can seriously confront the spiteful and malicious elements at the top of the party, the closer we can move to holding them, in the democratic tradition, to what they actually say.