Nigel Farage doesn't represent some of the left-of-Labour views in his party. Photo: Getty
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Red Ukip: a new political force?

Ideas well to the left of the Labour party are not compatible with Ukip's traditional libertarian selling point.

Some have mocked the term “Red Ukip”, imagining that Ukip remains a Thatcherite breakaway from the Conservative Party. Well, they won’t be anymore.

I’ve just returned from a remarkable fringe meeting at the party's annual autumn conference, in which Ian Dexter, a Ukip member, former candidate in county and district elections and potential parliamentary candidate for 2015, outlined his strategy for winning over Labour voters. His ideas are well to the left of the current Labour party.

“Money has to be prized out of the rich," Dexter said, lamenting the scale of inequality in the UK today: he quoted a statistic that the richest top five families have as much wealth as the bottom 20 per cent. His solutions include more progressive taxation, saying that the UK’s growth had been greatest in the Fifties, when the top rate of tax was over 90 per cent. Dexter also advocated re-evaluating council tax bands for properties, which has not been done since 1991.

Only an hour after Nigel Farage's communications chief, Patrick O’Flynn, had announced that Ukip would abolish inheritance tax, Dexter said he was making a mistake: “What on earth are we doing abolishing inheritance tax?" he asked.

Asked about the risk of the wealthiest fleeing the UK, Dexter said: "I would call their bluff - if you wanna go, go." And, he warned the audience, "Wealth does not trickle down" and “The days of rugged individualism are gone.”

There was more, too. Much more. Speaking about the railways, Dexter said that the state-owned Northern Ireland railways were the best in the UK. "Just renationalise the whole dam thing,” he said. He also supported introducing rent controls and called for realism in Ukip about the possibility of tax cuts. “We've got to realise that the NHS and welfare bill are going to keep doing up,” he said. And he called on banks to be broken down to their pre-1970s sizes.

It was quite a display: one more associated with members of the Socialist Workers Party than Ukip. And it was extraordinary, too, that Ukip allowed Dexter to speak at one of their biggest fringe events, especially as he said that they had a good idea of what he would say. Intriguingly, Dexter also said that he is in regular contact with Patrick O’Flynn.

Red Ukip is a very real force, alive and well. And so is the democratic tendency in Ukip, which allows debates to be played out with a frankness anathema to the three main parties.

But ultimately Red Ukip is not compatible with the libertarianism that was once Ukip’s selling point. As parties expand, so do the ideological tensions within them. There will come a point when it becomes impossible to remain the party of both Ian Dexter and Douglas Carswell. 

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

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.