Farage blunders as he calls for a "two tier flat tax"

The UKIP surge continues, but don't ask its leader for a coherent tax policy.

With two days to go until the local elections, the UKIP wave shows no signs of receding. The latest YouGov poll puts the party on a record high of 14 per cent, while ComRes has them on 13 per cent. 

The surge in support for Nigel Farage's party means the Tories are prepared for losses well in excess of the 350 seats forecast by election gurus Rallings and Thrasher. The figure of 800 seats that appears in today's Sun can almost certainly be dismissed as expectation management but it's not unreasonable to suggest that the party, which currently holds 26 of the 27 county councils up for election, could lose between 500 and 600. 

A cheery Farage was on the Today programme this morning, happily informing listeners that his party's membership has risen by 50 per cent this calendar year. After another UKIP election candidate was unmasked as an extremist (in this case, Somerset candidate Alex Wood, who is pictured giving a Nazi salute and wielding a knife on the front of today's Daily Mirror), Farage conceded that it "doesn't look very pretty" but insisted that it was just one of "a couple of very bizarre cases".

That doesn’t look very pretty, I agree with you, and we have had, out of our 1,700 candidates, a handful who have embarrassed us, mostly because they simply haven’t told us the truth, but we are the only party in British politics who actually forbid former members of the BNP or extreme organisations from even becoming members of UKIP, let alone candidates and, in one or two cases, people haven’t told us the truth.

He added, however: "We have done what due diligence we can at branch level - if people seemed to be very, very odd we didn’t accept them but we have taken people on faith. We don’t have the resources to trawl through absolutely everybody’s social media sites and that has led to one or two embarrassments."

But it was on the tricky subject of tax policy that Farage came unstuck. After last week distancing himself from his party's general election policy of a 31 per cent flat tax rate, the UKIP leader introduced us to the oxymoronic concept of a "two tier flat tax". One was left with the impression of a man making it up as he goes along (and trying to have it both ways). But for now, ever more appear prepared to come with him. 

UKIP leader Nigel Farage speaks at the party's 2013 Spring Conference in the Great Hall, Exeter University. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leader: The divisions within Labour

Labour’s divisions have rendered it unfit for government at a moment of profound political change.

Labour is a party torn between its parliamentary and activist wings. Since Jeremy Corbyn, who this week appealed desperately for unity, was re-elected by a landslide last September, Labour has become the first opposition in 35 years to lose a ­by-election to the governing party and has continually trailed the Conservatives by a double-digit margin. Yet polling suggests that, were Mr Corbyn’s leadership challenged again, he would win by a comfortable margin. Meanwhile, many of the party’s most gifted and experienced MPs refuse to serve on the front bench. In 2015 Mr Corbyn made the leadership ballot only with the aid of political opponents such as Margaret Beckett and Frank Field. Of the 36 MPs who nominated him, just 15 went on to vote for him.

Having hugely underestimated the strength of the Labour left once, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not do so again. In the contest that will follow Mr Corbyn’s eventual departure, the centrists could lock out potential successors such as the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey. Under Labour’s current rules, candidates require support from at least 15 per cent of the party’s MPs and MEPs.

This conundrum explains the attempt by Mr Corbyn’s supporters to reduce the threshold to 5 per cent. The “McDonnell amendment” (named after the shadow chancellor, who failed to make the ballot in 2007 and 2010) is being championed by the Bennite Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Jon Lansman of Momentum, who is interviewed by Tanya Gold on page 34. “For 20 years the left was denied a voice,” he tweeted to the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, on 19 March. “We will deny a voice to no one. We face big challenges, and we need our mass membership to win again.”

The passage of the amendment at this year’s Labour conference would aid Mr Lansman’s decades-long quest to bring the party under the full control of activists. MPs have already lost the third of the vote they held under the electoral college system. They face losing what little influence they retain.

No Labour leader has received less support from his MPs than Mr Corbyn. However, the amendment would enable the election of an even more unpopular figure. For this reason, it should be resolutely opposed. One should respect the motivation of the members and activists, yet Labour must remain a party capable of appealing to a majority of people, a party that is capable of winning elections.

Since it was founded, Labour has been an explicitly parliamentary party. As Clause One of its constitution states: “[The party’s] purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.” The absurdity of a leader opposed by as much as 95 per cent of his own MPs is incompatible with this mission. Those who do not enjoy the backing of their parliamentary colleagues will struggle to persuade the voters that they deserve their support.

Labour’s divisions have rendered it unfit for government at a moment of profound political change. Rather than formalising this split, the party needs to overcome it – or prepare for one of the greatest defeats in its history.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution