Nigel Farage's party is trying to navigate a sexual harassment scandal. Photo: Getty
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They may have “a long history of chauvinism”, but Ukip is not the only party failing women

With a harassment scandal rumbling on, and its leader's breastfeeding comments, it's been a bad week for Ukip. But it's not the only party failing women.

Ukip has not had a good week when it comes to women. Nigel Farage kicked things off by suggesting that mothers should think twice about breastfeeding in public, managing to offend a rather large proportion of the population even by his standards.

Now a parliamentary candidate has accused Roger Bird, the party’s general secretary, of sexual harassment.

There is no denying that both of these incidents, and especially their close timing, are embarrassing for Ukip. They suggest that the party does indeed have what has been termed a “woman problem” and raise questions about why any woman would actually vote for them.

But while these stories clearly do not cast Ukip in a positive light, the party will weather this storm. After all, Ukip is hardly the only party that fails women voters.

Nick Clegg, for a start, might have tackled Ukip on the issue of women’s rights during the 2014 European election campaign but his own party is hardly a beacon of progress in this domain.

Not only do the Lib Dems risk losing their entire (tiny) cohort of women MPs at the next election, but the Chris Rennard scandal is clear proof that the party has a problem all of its own when it comes to representing the interests of women. Rennard stood accused of a variety of acts of sexual harassment, for which he refused to apologise and for which his short suspension was soon lifted. The message to women is that the Lib Dems effectively condone sexual harassment.

Then there are the Conservatives. Anyone who thinks they have no issues when it comes to women should listen again to the patronising comments made by senior Tories – including the infamous “calm down dear” incident featuring none other than party leader David Cameron. If that’s not enough, take a look at the dearth of women in the cabinet and a budget that has seen 72 per cent of cuts come out of the pockets of women voters.

If women voters want to abandon Ukip, they will have to travel a long way across the political spectrum to find a party that has not recently offered public displays of sexism.

Nothing new here

And in fact, it seems unlikely that any woman already voting for Ukip would switch on the basis of these latest slip ups. Ukip has a long history of chauvinism. Farage’s comments about breastfeeding in public saw him suggesting women should avoid being “ostentatious” about it and arguing that they make people feel “very embarrassed” and “very uncomfortable” if they don’t.

This discomfort with one of the most natural acts in the world suggests a man, and a party, that is ill at ease with women. The allegations about Bird only served to reinforce this image of a party that does not know how to treat women correctly and respectfully.

The party has long been against maternity leave and pay, and Farage himself has claimed that women are “worth far less” to employers in the financial sector. Meanwhile, Godfrey Bloom, Ukip MEP from 2004 to 2014, claimed that “no self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age”. He later argued that small businesses should be allowed to sack pregnant women. If all this hasn’t been enough to turn off women voters before, these latest affronts are hardly going to be the final straw.

And it has worried less than most about appealing to women voters to maintain that credibility anyway. Women are already less likely than men to support Ukip. Research shows that, while the three mainstream parties all have a majority of women voters, Ukip’s electorate is 43 per cent women and 57 per cent men.

This is consistent with a widespread trend for radical right parties to have male-dominated support bases. The chauvinist discourses of the radical right are predominantly targeted at and appreciated by men. The women who do support parties such as Ukip tend to do so out of agreement with the party on other policy matters such as immigration.

Women who subscribe to radical right ideologies tend to hold traditional values and to reject feminism. As such, they are unlikely to abandon Ukip on the basis of some maladroit comments about breastfeeding or some as yet unconfirmed allegations of harassment.

Ukip has at least taken action over Bird, who has been suspended pending an investigation. This indicates that Ukip is taking a stronger line on sexism than it has in the past – perhaps out of a growing desire to be seen as a credible and electable party.

And that really is the only likely cost to the party after these incidents – the potential negative impact on its efforts to achieve mainstream respectability. The women who are left aghast by these stories are unlikely ever to have voted for Ukip in the first place.

For a party that found fame embracing nostalgia for the past, retrograde attitudes to women appear to be par for the course. The real disappointment here is that Ukip’s rivals are so poorly placed to offer a women-friendly alternative.

Rainbow Murray is a reader in politics at Queen Mary University of LondonThe Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.