No major party has encountered more derision in British political history than UKIP. The extent to which this is justified is for others to ponder. I personally think, having spent time inside the party (unlike most of UKIP’s detractors), that much of the criticism swung its way was disproportionate and exaggerated. After all, how anomalous could a group comprising of disgruntled southern Tories and marginalised northern Labour voters actually be?
The party is currently locked in its third leadership tussle in the last 18 months, with Paul Nuttall and Suzanne Evans looking the most likely candidates to assume the post of leader. Both Mr Nuttall and Ms Evans are capable of reforming the party in ways that Nigel Farage was not, though my better judgement is with Suzanne, who I was privileged to meet and spend time with during the latter stages of the EU referendum campaign.
In many ways, Nigel Farage is UKIP’s Tony Blair: immensely popular and successful within, but guilty of leaving the party directionless upon stepping down. Both figures were so microcosmic of their respective parties’ characters that by the time they left centre stage, both New Labour and UKIP had been hollowed out. As the purple army fight over who should replace him at the helm, it is worth acknowledging the stability he brought to the party in the face of stern challenges both internally and externally.
When I was a member of UKIP (from May 2015, for exactly a year), the party was depressingly disorganised. Internal communication and democratic structures were horrendous, local campaigning was poorly structured and our messages were not coherently received as a result. In short, UKIP has obstacles to overcome that lie far beyond the scope of fulfilling Brexit.
In the age of Brexit, however, it is entirely plausible that UKIP will no longer find for itself a gap in the political market. Instead of thinking about the challenges that the UK Independence Party will have to face in the future, I wanted to consider the legacy that it leaves behind and just what its true effect has been on the British political landscape.
It is true that UKIP have primarily been a one-issue party. Over the years, they made a lot of noise about grammar schools and scrapping HS2, but when all is said and done, UKIP’s intentions for Britain revolved around advocating an exit from the European Union; a policy we are closer than ever to being able to implement.
But UKIP’s foothold on British politics goes much further than one might expect. The extraordinary antics of a bigoted minority within the party and the ensuing media onslaught (which backfired) aside, UKIP’s main achievement was not to set Britain on the path to independence, which is still quite far from being realised, but to unearth a feeling amongst the population buried for far too long: love of country.
Until only a couple of years ago, British patriotism (usually expressed through a mixture of love of country and culture) was a motionless, cobweb-riddled skeleton in the closet of the liberal consensus. With the rise of UKIP came something to which it could attach itself, something to give it life. Perhaps even a stable future.
Do not mistake my message here. UKIP policies did not necessarily hold a patriotic monopoly. After all, what an individual loves about his or her country, and how patriotism is felt is entirely subjective. Moreover, it was the nature of the party’s long-abandoned message (namely, a longing for independence and reclamation of sovereignty) and the chords it struck that rendered the relationship between patriotism and UKIP analogous of the relationship between Lord Voldemort and Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Since the mainstream political consensus now happily accommodates formerly marginalised attitudes towards British sovereignty, culture and immigration, British patriotism no longer needs to staple itself to a specific party. This is UKIP’s real legacy. In adopting the role of the battering ram on behalf of a certain sect of the public, it was able to force a forgotten agenda down the throats of the metropolitan elite. Personal opinions on UKIP may differ wildly, but its successes are profound and must not be understated.
British patriotism no longer needs to staple itself to a specific party. This is UKIP’s real legacy.
My gut instinct is that the UK Independence Party does not have a lasting shelf life in Britain. Brexit must mean Brexit, or the British political elite will face hostilities unseen in centuries. However modestly, I will do what I can to ensure the process of leaving the European Union is not abandoned like those who craved it for decades were. Like a bee sting, the country’s referendum was UKIP’s weapon and self-destruct button simultaneously and will not have the same level of bargaining power going forward.
A change in leader won’t matter hugely to the political climate. Nor will it bolster the Brexit process. But, whatever its future, it is worth commending UKIP, despite all their inefficiencies, for standing up for those who for years felt ashamed to be patriotic. Like many of history’s greatest figures, their achievements might not be respected in their lifetime.
Oliver Norgrove is a student of Journalism at University of the Arts, London, and a former media analyst for Vote Leave. He tweets @OliverNorgrove.