I had to quit my top job at Ukip – it’s just bland and anti-Muslim | Jonathan Arnott | Opinion


Many people lazily define politics according to left and right, whether that’s to do with economics or authoritarianism. But over recent years, another axis has emerged – populism versus establishment. Right-populist parties have sprung up (eg in Sweden and the Netherlands), as have left-populist ones (eg in Portugal and Greece) and even centre-populist ones (Spain has both left and centre populist parties).

When I first joined Ukip, I was attracted to the anti-establishment nature of the party. I don’t fit well with Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat bland establishment mediocrity – as I was reminded at a polling station with only those options on the ballot paper on Thursday. The Ukip of old loved to breathe new life into policy – whether it was no tax on minimum wage (raising the tax threshold to help the poorest earners, later part-copied by the Conservatives), direct democracy (letting people call binding referendums on certain key issues) or replacing the hugely bureaucratic VAT with a much simpler tax on retail sales.

The 2017 manifesto was certainly well costed, but it lacked something: it didn’t really say very much of any consequence. It was a bland, insipid document with large chunks of policy simply missing from last time. Not that the manifesto was Paul Nuttall’s fault, of course: he went into the ITV debate with nobody having even done him the courtesy of showing him the entire draft. Nuttall found himself regurgitating visions of cutting class sizes in primary schools, blissfully unaware that the policy had – like so much else – been quietly binned.

In the absence of a grand vision on key issues of the day, Ukip’s focus drifted. The burqa ban was an odd choice for a first big speech of a campaign (and personally I disagree with such a blanket ban), but nevertheless Nuttall’s closest advisers pushed him into it. Likewise, while I fully agree that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a massive child protection issue that should never be swept under the carpet (and only Ukip was speaking out on the issue), the proposed school-based genital examinations were not only divisive and wrong, but also counterproductive in that the policy detracted from a very serious message.

I’ve watched in disappointment, bordering on despair, as I’ve seen candidates and councillors fail to recognise the difference between Muslims as a whole, and the tiny minority of radical Islamist extremists. Ukip is either a reasoned, radical alternative to the political establishment or it is nothing. The vast majority of the manifesto was reasoned but not radical; the so-called “integration agenda” was radical but not reasoned and an odd choice for a campaign priority in an election which should have been about so much more.

Political parties do very badly when they make it difficult for people to go out and vote for them. That’s exactly what Ukip did on Thursday. I’ve watched friends and family, Ukip voters, members and even past candidates, fall away from the party one after another. If it is ever to resurrect itself as a serious political force, it’s going to need a good long think about what fundamentally drives people to be Ukip.

I’ve tried for month after month in private to get people to listen and to change direction – but I’ve failed. I have spoken out publicly in the past (I vocally opposed the Breaking Point poster for example) and I must do so again. I want Ukip to be a radical party once more, a party I can be proud to represent again. A party with vision transcending the tired old left and right labels. That’s worth fighting for. That requires speaking out, and I can only speak out by first tendering my resignation as general secretary.

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