Thursday, 20 April 2017

UKIP and the Tories – what’s the difference?

The decision of the British people to leave the European Union would never have happened without the pressure put on the Conservative Party by UKIP. Despite having no more than two MPs, the threat they posed forced the pro-EU Conservative prime minister David Cameron to hold a referendum that he and most of his cabinet colleagues had wished to avoid. This outcome against the odds was a magnificent achievement by UKIP, and a personal triumph for their leader Nigel Farage. However, since the referendum UKIP have struggled to find a role now that they have achieved their primary objective. So, with a general election announced, it is worth considering if the party has a continuing role to play in British politics.

Both of the former UKIP MPs, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, have left the party believing that it has now served its purpose. Their viewpoint is reinforced by the perception that the Conservatives under Theresa May will settle for a trading arrangement outside the EU customs union and single market. So is there now any meaningful difference between the two parties?

In addition to leaving the EU the strongest selling points for UKIP were a tougher line on immigration and a commitment to reintroduce grammar schools. However, UKIP’s policy on immigration is not as robust as it needs to be, since they are in favour of a points based system that gives priority to Commonwealth citizens. The problem with a points based system is that once an applicant achieves the requisite number of points they automatically become eligible for entry. Allowing unfettered Commonwealth immigration from societies with very different cultural values to our own would only compound the problems of integration that we have wrestled with for the past half century or more.

The reason Britain still needs skilled workers from overseas is because employers have failed to properly train UK workers. So to put pressure on employers to devote more resources to training they should face a ‘failure to train’ levy on any foreign worker they wish to employ. This should amount to £10,000 for any worker from Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, and £20,000 for the rest of the world, to be paid annually up to a maximum of five years, with no guarantee of citizenship. These amounts could be ratcheted up over time to put further pressure on recalcitrant employers. The NHS will be exempt, but the training of British born medical staff will have to become a top priority. So currently neither UKIP nor the Tories can be relied on to deliver an immigration policy that prioritises the interests of British citizens.

Since the election of Theresa May as leader the Tories have started to make some encouraging noises on the reintroduction of grammar schools. The justification for this move is that they provide an improved route to achieve social mobility for bright children from working class backgrounds. It allows such pupils to benefit from an academic education, removed from the distraction and influence of their anti-attainment peers that is regrettably commonplace in working class culture. Grammar schools face stiff opposition from the educational establishment, opposition parties and sadly also some elements within the Conservatives, so it is to be hoped that their supporters can hold their nerve and face down these ideologically driven egalitarian agitators.

What other policies do the parties have which can be commended? UKIP has promised to repeal the Climate Change Act foolishly introduced when the global warming scare was at its height. Both parties are committed to the scrapping the Human Rights Act and ensuring that the Supreme Court is indeed supreme and not subordinate to any outside jurisdiction. However the Tories are still trying to pander to political correctness by seeking to extend so called ‘hate crimes’ as well as attacking freedom of expression by the use of banning orders for undefined ‘extremist’ organisations. Many of the two parties other policies are managerial in nature and could be introduced by either without seriously undermining their wider ideological objectives.

Having two parties with separate manifestos does allow more ideas to be generated, which if they are sound, can be poached by the other party. Currently many working class Labour voters are unwilling to vote Conservative, but might be tempted to support UKIP. But under the current voting system UKIP are unlikely to win any seats in the coming election, whereas the Tories look to be heading for a 100 seat majority if the polls are to be believed. In the circumstances a vote for UKIP appears to be a wasted one, and it might allow Labour to retain seats which would otherwise have been lost, had the political right remained undivided.

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