Ukip and Nigel Farage have officially launched their campaign for the referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. The ‘Say No to the EU referendum tour’ will see Farage address public meetings across England, setting out Ukip’s case for why Britain should withdraw from the EU and entrenching himself as a key player in the referendum debate.This is yet another signal confirming pretty much what we already knew. Winning is not their measure of success. Ukip has no intention of mounting an effective referendum campaign. This is just a jamboree to advance their presence as a party.
The tour is significant for two main reasons. First, Ukip is trying to overcome the disappointment of the general election by mobilising a stronger grassroots presence. The party is claiming that, over the autumn, Farage will address at least 300 public meetings, which have long been his preferred campaign activity.
Meetings have long been used by Ukip to contrast its grassroots strategy with the more stage-managed set pieces of the main parties. With the party’s membership holding fairly steady at about 40,000 recruits, Ukip will most likely try to use the meetings not only to set out its Eurosceptic argument but as a data-capture exercise in its own right – an opportunity to recruit new followers and set the stage for electoral survival.
As one insider said to me recently, if the party does not at least double its grassroots membership during the referendum campaign then it will have been a failure.
In spite of multiple warnings from various sources, Ukip has insisted that immigration will be their platform throughout, and pleas with Ukip MEPs have fallen on deaf ears. Not that Farage would be of a mind to listen to a word they say. Given their abysmal performance and singular lack of ability, one is minded not to blame him. I am surprised these people can dress themselves unaided.
What this tells us is that in the mind of Mr Farage, leaving the EU is no longer a goal of Ukip. It is but a subtext. The goal of Ukip is to consolidate its slender foothold. It seeks to use the referendum as a recruitment drive, concentrating its activities where it polled well in the general election in a deluded attempt to create an SNP effect in England. This is a fantasy.
As much as there is no scope for a "populist" anti-foreigner campaign to succeed, Ukip doesn't have the infrastructure or the backing. It's taking a hammering in local polls and local branches are falling apart. In this, supporters of Ukip have been lead like lambs to the slaughter by a man whose political ambitions have lost touch with the original mission. It figures. Why would Farage want to win the referendum? No EU, no Ukip. Thus the campaign he will mount is the final betrayal of eurosceptics.