Week in Review: Ukip loses the plot completely

There were only ever two directions for Ukip to go after Brexit. It could either paint itself as the guardian of 'true Brexit', which would be defined in opposition to whatever compromises a government would need to make to deliver it. Or it could shift further to the right into explicit Islamophobia, in the style of Donald Trump and Viktor Orban.

Nigel Farage has carried the flag for the former approach, while new leader Gerard Batten has opted for the latter. This week he revealed just how far he was prepared to take it.

An interim manifesto unveiled for a party conference on Friday proposed Muslim-only prisons, special screening for Muslim immigrants, the repeal of all equalities laws, abolishing hate crimes and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, and a five-year time limit on new immigrants before they are allowed to buy homes.

The language of the manifesto also borrowed from the far-right, with constant references to "the political doctrine of cultural Marxism" (God knows), as did the guest list, which includes a bunch of internet eccentrics and crackpots.

Batten uses the standard mental construction of authoritarian nationalists everywhere: the purity of Britain's "peoples" being threatened by an inferior and yet somehow also extremely powerful Other, in this case Islam. And there are, as usual, the standard dreary conspiracy theories about the "politically correct thought police knocking on our doors".

At no point do these guys ever seem to realise that they are making the exact argument which they claim it is impossible to articulate because of the thought police. If the conspiracy was real, why are they free and saying all the things which apparently you cannot say? It is an argument which refutes itself the moment it is said out loud.

Quite apart from the obvious moral objections, the proposals would actually increase the problems they are ostensibly meant to solve. Putting all Muslims, regardless of their crime, in one jail - pickpockets mingling with terrorists - would, of course, increase the risk of radicalisation. Scrapping equality legislation so that anyone can discriminate towards people, say by refusing to sell to them or putting up signs outside their restaurant saying 'No Muslims', would increase the social prejudice which drives some people towards extremism in the first place.

But far-right proposals are never really meant to offer solutions. They are meant to make tiny-minded people feel better about themselves. Batten is not really engaged in a war against Islam or political correctness or anything else. He is engaged in a war against his own emotional insecurities.

For everyone else, the main task when faced with grotesque proposals like these is to strike the right balance in response.

Ukip cannot be ignored. Batten has struck up an alliance with the far-right figure Tommy Robinson. They can mobilise a few thousand people. Protests over Robinson's imprisonment earlier this year saw a coming together of the jackbooted British far-right and the tech-literate American alt-right under Steve Bannon.

You have to keep your anti-fascist eyes on that. But you shouldn't allow it to affect your own thinking. Far too many centrists, leftists and liberals feel they need to accommodate the far-right, whether it is on challenging Brexit, or giving up on free movement, or acknowledging the 'perception' of problems with immigration.

It's a nonsense. They are a tiny group of self-hating hysterics who have projected their damaged sense of self onto imaginary enemies. You cannot ignore them. But you can mock them and their sad little fantasy policies. Batten in particular is worthy of the most extensive ridicule. He should receive it in spades. After all, anything else would be political correctness gone mad.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Brexit: Brussels just got serious

Not many people saw that coming. We all expected Brussels to be saying nice things about the Chequers proposals until after the Tory party conference at least.

They did not do that. Instead, they took Chequers down a back alley and kicked its head in. European Council president Donald Tusk said it "will not work" and even held off confirming a special summit in November if Theresa May hadn't sorted the Irish backstop solution by October - something she has said she cannot do.

French president Emmanuel Macron was particularly undiplomatic. "Those who explain that we can easily live without Europe, that everything is going to be all right, and that it's going to bring a lot of money home are liars,” he said.

The only support May seemed to have was from Hungary and Poland, the two right-wing authoritarian governments in Europe, both of whom are under disciplinary proceedings for failing to live up to European values. It is assistance she could probably do without.

In a sense none of this is surprising. Everyone knew Chequers was nonsense, a piece of blithering technical mythmaking intended to solve political problems rather than practical ones.

In reality, once you took off its make-up, it was May's attempt to pretend that she would be able to pass the Irish backstop without strapping the whole UK economy to Europe.

These were the dominoes she'd lined up: signing the Irish backstop means you guarantee there are no checks on the Irish border. The only way to guarantee that is to have Northern Ireland sit in the regulatory system as the rest of Europe. But if you did that, you'd need to have checks in the Irish Sea, which the DUP could not accept. So Chequers was designed to bring the whole of the UK into the same regulatory system as the EU for goods.

It went as far as it needed to fix the Irish problem. After all, it's only goods -actual physical things - that need to be checked on a border. Services are checked where they are delivered, for instance by checking the qualifications of the architect you want to hire.

But there was a problem. As the Europeans said over and over again - they must have literally done so at least once a day for the last two years - you cannot divide the single market. If you're in it for goods, you need to be in it for services.

May wanted to pretend this was not true. She dressed it up in terms of compromise and all the rest, but ultimately the myth was that you could separate the single market. Why? Because she knew she could not get full regulatory alignment of goods and services past her party. And she was right. The goods alignment alone made them wet themselves.

Brussels would sporadically say this out loud and then, at other times, it would welcome the proposals as the basis for future discussions, which was really a euphemism for a staging post towards Britain eventually doing what they told it to do.

That's where the unspoken and unholy informal alliance between Brexiters and Brussels came into play. This was the slippery reality of the negotiation.

Chequers or Norway or Canada or whatever other models you have only need to be discussed after Brexit Day. It is part of the 'future relationship' agreement, which isn't even a legal text. It is completely distinct from the withdrawal agreement, which is like a big stone tablet of doom: a proper legal text containing the Irish backstop, citizen's rights, the budget payment and the rest.

Most Brexit observers, therefore, presumed the future relationship document would be an abject fudge, gleefully conspired by all sides.

That's because it was in everyone's interest. The Brexiters wanted to at least secure Brexit, just get the bloody thing done, and have the real fight over future regulatory alignment from outside the EU. Europe just wanted a deal, because the chaos of no-deal would be intolerable to any sane person. Putting off the reality of Chequers' impossibility seemed the best way to do that, especially given May seemed so isolated and vulnerable at home.

The expectation was that May would capitulate on Ireland, albeit with a form of words which allowed her to try and sell it back home, fudge the future relationship stuff, get Brexit done, and then the fight would start again on the other side of March.

But today's events suggest something has changed. You could see by May's expressions, which were even more strained than normal, that she had been taken by surprise. Things had fallen apart.

In reality, nothing has changed - Chequers was never going to happen this morning and tonight it remains something that is never going to happen - but it is extremely significant that Brussels has changed its attitude.

Perhaps they grew tired of Britain presenting Chequers as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. After all, May's shock suggests she might have really believed it would fly. We must pray that is not the case because it would suggest that she is so detached from reality that she cannot functionally perform the role of prime minister.

Perhaps they have decided that they will not fudge the future relationship before March. Doing so might strap them into years of wrangling over regulatory alignment with a country which is now very volatile and internally chaotic. 

Perhaps they thought that it was strategically sensible to attack May just before her party conference, although it is not clear why they would come to that conclusion. Or maybe it was just one of those moments of unscripted emotional dominoes, with events swinging one way or another due to perceived idiocies or acts of disrespect. It's not clear.

What is clear is that a deal just got a lot less likely. The government needs fuzz, not clarity. Clarity is death. The deal will be hard to secure if a detailed version of the future relationship is considered a requirement. But it will be easier to secure if everything is blurred and fuzzy. Today's summit went from an old TV with a coat-hanger for an antenna to full-on 4K widescreen. That's bad.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Cable's analysis is spot-on, but the Lib Dems need a jolt of energy

You couldn't get a greater difference between content and delivery. Vince Cable's speech to Liberal Democrat conference painted a picture of a world in peril, where Brexit was set to inflict terrible damage on British society and the two main parties had morphed into "intolerant cults" where "those who question the faith are unwelcome".

It was urgent, despairing, and almost completely true. But the man delivering it looked like he was moments from sleep.

Cable is a decent, humane man. He's made errors, of course, the most damaging being the decision to back the Tories on tuition fees, which shattered a generation's trust in mainstream progressive political leaders and helped create the frenzied support for Jeremy Corbyn which now horrifies him. But he also made the right choices on several occasions.

A fair account of Coalition would include the fact that he and his colleagues fought off some deranged Conservative plans on immigration and the economy. It would make the case that damage limitation in imperfect circumstances can often be an honourable endeavour, even if it is a thankless one. But this is not a period in which fair assessments get much traction. Everyone is now a devil or an angel, and for many Cable will always be a compromised figure.

Certainly, it was a bad idea to make him the leader. He is too closely associated to the Coalition. It's no problem for someone of his age to be in the role, but they need to look like they have fight left in them and he simply doesn't. He is presumably as aghast as he says he is at the turn our politics has taken, but you don't really see the rage or indignation in the way he conducts himself.

Instead, you get the sense that he is gearing up for his last political fight, which is to open up the leadership elections for Lib Dem leader to non-MPs. It is, in effect, a self-denying ordinance. It would undermine the system which meant that he was the only viable option available during the last leadership contest. Pursuing this, therefore, takes a large degree of humility and self-awareness, of the sort one can't ever imagine Theresa May or Corbyn possessing.

It should happen fast. The Lib Dems need urgency and dynamism and they need them quickly. The daily humiliation of watching commentators talk about a new centrist party while they sit there in the corner of the room waiting for people to notice that they already exist must be hard to bear. But they can never be that party until they have a fresh face at the top. And it is possible that the brand damage from Coalition is so severe that even that might not be enough.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Latest entries