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.