Nigel Farage reacts on stage after being re-elected as an MEP as the South East England region results of the European Parliament elections. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Farage's gamble pays off - but where do Ukip go next?

 Nigel Farage is serious about getting Ukip seats at the next general election, he will soon have to upset a lot of prominent party personnel.

Nigel Farage’s approach to the European elections was not governed by conventional wisdom. While the Conservatives spent months downplaying expectations of their performance in the European elections, Farage was busy doing the opposite.

The European election results provided stunning vindication. The easy option would have been to set Ukip up as carefree underdogs, and try to replicate the strategy that yielded a second-placed finish in the 2009 European elections.

But Farage eschewed such expediency. The problem with 2009, for Ukip, is running a low stakes campaign in a low stakes election meant that, after polling day, there wasn’t much left. A vote for Ukip was a cheap shot at the other parties, but it was forgotten in about the time it took to put a cross by Ukip’s box on the ballot paper. A year after the last European elections, Ukip had lost over four-fifths of their support.

So Farage opted for a different approach. He put pressure on Ukip at every turn. He shunned the expectation management approach. Farage made the elections high stakes - or at least as high stakes as European elections can be. This meant a more intense election campaign, and more scrutiny on the party. It created a formidable ‘Stop Ukip’ political machine.

For Farage, overcoming this is a significant achievement. His hope will be that voters have heard everything bad there is to say about Ukip, and that those who did vote for Ukip will not encounter any nasty surprises about the party before May 6 next year. Ukip is successfully tapping into the ‘left behind’ voters who Rob Ford and Matt Goodwin have identified as its most fertile group of supporters. And they did cared not for the anti-Ukip attacks. The more Farage and his party were attacked, the higher they polled.

Still, perspective is needed. Ukip came top, yes, but with 27.5% - and in an election in which turnout was a derisory 35%, 30% less than in the last general election. This “political earthquake” may yet do no more than mildly shake the cutlery. If Nigel Farage is serious about getting Ukip seats at the next general election, he will soon have to upset a lot of prominent party personnel. The party lacks the resources to target more than a dozen seats in 2015.

Farage will hope that the real legacy of this campaign is more than just a fleeting historical triumph for Ukip but the creation of a distinct brand of Ukip voters. Supporters who stayed with the party despite - or perhaps because of - the media onslaught and are more faithful than Ukip’s voters in the 2009 European elections. The reasons not to vote for Ukip have never been more known or better articulated. That so many voters overcame these will give Ukip hope that its vote will collapse less spectacularly than five years ago.   

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue