Better commentators than me have put their finger on what yesterday's local elections point to. Only the BBC really seemed to be trying to spin it for anything other than a terrible indictment of the British political scene, but even they had to touch upon it (but not for too long)
Running under all of this was a good stream of commentary on UKIP. Opinions vary. Whilst the party itself was talking up the number of second places, others were wondering how they had failed to once again turn such widespread dissatisfaction into hard numbers. To a point this is a fair question. I'm sure the increase in second places were heart warming to the party, but if this were a school report it would look like those "could do better if tried" type comments. The opportunity has probably never been better for them. They are staring at a political open goal yet somehow they're not slotting the ball home. This is causing many to ask if they ever will be able to find the back of the net.
Jon Ward over at The Slog ran a nice little piece yesterday and there was some back and forth on Twitter between Witterings from Witney and Calling England, along similar lines. Having never voted UKIP or being involved with them, I can't say whether or not the problems quoted ring true, but they do appear as themes that crop up a few times.
Sadly, I spent a lot of time mulling UKIP yesterday and began to conclude that we need a more effective UKIP on the scene. We need a fourth force in UK politics to show the other three that the game is changing. This might seem a strange view for someone who only the other day wrote about it being time for a non party movement. I concluded that one could co exist with the other and also identified a third idea as well which I'll put forward in time. My view on UKIP is that their emergence could prove that the electorate has finally sat up and taken notice.
To do that however, they need to start taking some seats - and soon. For some reason they are just not turning their work into seat winning voting patterns. Something is amiss because I think the Tories are genuinely scared of them. The Tories can't decide on how to position UKIP. One minute they're talking about not wasting your vote on UKIP because it plays into Labour's hand by stealing votes from the Conservatives. The next minute they're describing UKIP as the natural home for ex-BNP supporters. This latter description demonstrates a real sense of fear. This is normally the politics of the hard left when they want to make something a no go area.
So they have an opportunity. But that is all it is - an opportunity. They have to turn it into votes. Shallow though it sounds, they have to work on their presentation. Europe is having an over arching effect on our everyday lives and is even pervasive down at town hall level. The problem is that this federalisation is so complex and so well hidden that the public either can't see it or it's complexity causes us to simply switch off.
Unfortunately for UKIP - Europe is the only message that really makes it out into the public conscious and as such it seems like the party is only about one thing and that one thing does not feel like the central problem in the minds of the British electorate. They're just not ready for that level of complexity - it needs boiling down to something really simple that affects their everyday life.
For me the current name is the same issue, especially when you have the pound sign logo. It places too much emphasis on getting out of Europe in the minds of the public because they boil it down to as simple a meaning as possible. I'm for getting out of Europe but if you're Joe Public and you haven't looked into UKIP it's easy to give the impression that's all you're about. This leads to the inevitable question of what they are about once they've achieved that aim.
Before anyone comments that there is other stuff on the website that shows what they're about - I know that. Appealing to voters though is like meeting a partner. There's that first impression that needs to be given just by looking at them. Only once you've created that initial attraction do you get to have an that deeper conversation where you learn more about that prospective partner.
It was Jon Ward's observation of what he would do if he were on their marketing team that really got me thinking about UKIP when he suggested:
Were I in charge of their marketing, I’d place far more stress on
the word Independence – it is positive, it has many dimensions of great
appeal concerning everything from personal liberty to export markets,
and it is going to be a very important emotional word in the world that
could emerge from the trauma we’re about to suffer. But why is no
thinking like that coming through?
For me, this is a great angle to come at it from. Inherent in it are the concepts of small state, low bureaucracy and messages of aspiration and opportunity. It has something for disaffected Tories and to be frank it nails the myth of the modern Labour party that it is there for the working man and woman. This is where the freedom for such people lie - in taking the opportunity afforded to them and keeping most of the fruits of their labour. Added to that, this message solves the question of what UKIP stands for once out of Europe.
Get this message out front and centre and UKIP will start taking seats faster.
The other message they need to get out is the message that the big three aren't listening to the voter. We know it in the blogsphere and more and more I hear everyday people talking about this concept. Get out there and mine it. They know the parties aren't listening. Tell them you know that and offer them a home - provided of course you're willing to listen.
To start taking seats faster however they need to get out of the election cycle. It's the only time the press turn their attention to UKIP in any detail. Between those times it's mostly the big three and they need to get a little more savvy about it by bumping their presence outside of that time. Stuff happens and seats come up outside of the cycle. They need to be in a good position capitalise as maybe their first gains come from catching the big three flat footed.
One way I think they need to do this, is raise their local profile. I've just been to the website to look up their local presence. All I could find was a name, an email address and a mobile phone number for the local chairman. In terms of candidates, all I could find for my region was a list of candidates for the local elections. Nobody else to be seen.
To make gains when the mainstream press isn't paying you much attention, you have to raise your own voice and you have to do it locally. UKIP need to get faces and voices out locally to start building a power base locally. Local is where it's at. The party needs to get faces known and speaking at every opportunity locally. They should be out their constantly repeating their new message so that come voting day they have the public have a better understanding to make a more viable candidate. Waiting till election time to announce your presence looks exactly like the other three who simply parachute in to patronise you in return for your vote. If you want to know how that approach is working, take a look at how the real winner in yesterdays elections was the NoShow party which accounted for 69% of the vote.
What I've described is not rocket science. Right now is UKIPs best opportunity. The goal won't get any more open than it is now