Monday 23 September 2013

The Tories Are Moving To "Spotify" Their Party - And It Could Be The Death Of UKIP

On Friday, a very ominous media development took place that could profoundly affect UKIP's destiny.

No, I am not talking about Godfrey Bloom, but rather that the High Tory grandee Charles Moore used his column in the Daily Telegraph to advocate reorganising Tory party organisation on social media lines.

When a mainstream, middle aged High Tory like Moore writes in such terms, you know that
Douglas Carswell's ideas are finally gaining traction. This followed Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps' move to finally publicise membership figures and in particularly those of individual associations, in order to incentivise them to experiment in new ways to attract members.

This is potentially disastrous news for UKIP. Yes, the Tory party has many deep seated structural and cultural weaknesses which will make this a difficult road to travel: it has an arrogant, snobbish leadership and a culture of centralised cliquish control. It is not trusted by great swathes of the electorate and has manage to seriously alienate vast numbers of it's natural supporters. However, it still retains vastly greater financial resources and more, if deeply demoralised, members than UKIP does.

Indeed, the Tory party has absolutely no choice but to go down this road. Now with a considerably smaller number of members than the Labour party,  the distribution of it's vote means it has nonetheless considerably more marginal seats to defend. Furthermore, the ruling out of a pact with UKIP by Nigel Farage means it will face highly committed and enthusiastic UKIP activists across the country. Many of these will be ex-Tory activists who know their territory and who are thirsting for revenge on their former party. Without a rapid increase in membership, the party's re-election efforts look doomed.

Of course our voting demographic includes a great number of people who would never dream of voting for, let alone joining, any kind of Tory party, but Labour won't be far behind either. It would not surprise me at all if major social media initiatives were announced at both the Labour or Tory conferences.

Like it or not, these cultural changes are inevitable, and a small party like UKIP with limited financial and personnel resources simply can not afford to lose "first mover" advantage in radically reorienting the structure and culture of the party on social media lines.

Nothing is as dangerous as success, as the saying goes. It is far too easy to be complacent given our recent increases in membership to sit back and regard all as fine and dandy. Instead of congratulating ourselves on having 30,000+ members, we should be asking ourselves why we don't have the 4,000,000+ that some voluntary organisations like the National Trust have. Once upon time those sorts of membership figures were common for political parties, there is no reason why they can't be again given the right cultural changes.

But will UKIP be among them?

It has often been the fate of new political parties in Britain to have a brief "shooting star" moment; to burn so very brightly in the sky before just as quickly dimming and going out. Few now remember the old SDP, even though it had stratospheric poll ratings during some periods in the 1980s. Likewise the Green's had their moments in the sun, but are in decline now. Somehow the hoary old ugly sisters, Tory and Labour, manage to adapt and survive when they look ready for the chop.

Be in no doubt, there is nothing to stop UKIP from sharing the fate of so many upstart movements that have gone before it. Despite the huge opportunities we have at our disposal, with weakened and dangerously exposed political rivals, we are a very long way away from sealing the deal. And that deal can only be sealed using the tools of social media already so predominant in virtually all other areas of modern society.