Tensions are growing in the UK Independence Party’s ranks as it prepares to announce populist policies that target Labour voters but move the party further away from its libertarian roots.
Ukip insiders have told the Financial Times that the policies will be unveiled in the coming weeks to combat the party’s reputation as “more Tory than the Tories”. They include ringfencing the National Health Service budget, raising the income tax threshold for lower earners and opposing a new runway at Heathrow.
The party is currently on around 16 points in the polls, but insiders believe they have maximised support among former Tory voters and are now trying to woo disaffected Labour supporters, especially in the north.
Matthew Goodwin an academic at Nottingham University who has studied Ukip’s rise, said: “Ukip voters are closer to Labour than they are to the Tories in their economic views. They are very receptive to ideas like clamping down on bankers’ bonuses.”
The shift from the party’s roots as a small-government, pro-enterprise organisation is leading to what senior officials are calling “the battle between the uber-libertarians and the blue-collar Kippers”.
One person involved in the discussions said: “The blue-collar Kippers have won the main battles, but there are still a number of uber-libertarians around, particularly among the younger activists.” The person added: “A lot of those people have never had to fend for themselves, and have survived off trust funds from Mum and Dad.”
Bill Etheridge, a Ukip MEP for the Midlands, said: “You get some people who don’t understand what it is like to be struggling . . . You can have all the principles you like but there is a difference between theory you dream up over dinner in London and dealing with real life in the Black Country”.
David Campbell-Bannerman, Ukip’s former deputy leader, described the view of many of the old guard: “[Mr Farage] is bringing in new people who have never been involved with Ukip before, he is just not going to listen to them for long.”
Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, will soon begin releasing details of the party’s 2015 manifesto, having disowned its 2010 document — which included ideas such as a flat 31 per cent rate of income tax, requiring taxi drivers to wear uniforms and repainting trains in “traditional colours” — as “drivel”.
People involved in the process say Ukip is trying to appeal to a much wider cross-section of people than in 2010, while avoiding the accusations it faced at the last election of wanting to spend far more than it raised in tax.
Officials have told the FT that the party will renege on its 2010 commitment to spend 40 per cent more on the military, choosing a more modest inflation-linked rise. It will also attempt to save money by scrapping the HS2 high-speed rail line.
More unusual ideas are also being thrown around at Ukip headquarters. Andrew Reid, the party treasurer, told the FT he would like to see foreigners banned from buying houses worth under £400,000 unless they intended to live in them, to help solve the UK’s housing crisis.
Ukip will have its manifesto vetted by a third-party economics think-tank, which it has not yet named but which it says will give its promises more credibility.
One of the biggest policy battles has been over the NHS. Patrick O’Flynn, the party’s economic spokesman, has described the health service as the “number one” thing that voters care about and has won a push to make sure the party promises not to cut or privatise it.
That victory may be shortlived however. One senior Ukip official told the FT: “This is the position for now. It will probably change after the election.”
Steven Woolfe, the party’s migration spokesman, meanwhile, has floated the idea of renationalising the railways in an interview with the New Statesman magazine.
Mr O’Flynn’s position in the party has come under increasing scrutiny. A report on the rightwing Breitbart website, whose former managing editor Raheem Kassam has become an adviser to Mr Farage, described Mr O’Flynn as a “standard bearer for the left” and said there has been an attempt to oust him from the party.
Mr O’Flynn’s supporters say he has seen off that threat, but his ideas have generated anger among senior party figures, especially his suggestion of a higher rate of VAT for luxury goods, which became known as the “WAG tax”.
Mr O’Flynn unveiled the luxury goods tax in his conference speech but was quickly overruled by Mr Farage, whom insiders say was furious about the policy.
Mark Wallace, who has written a series of pieces about Ukip’s rise for the ConservativeHome website, said: “Ukip has always had more than its fair share of infighting and purges.
“The ‘all things to all men’ strategy adds in new tensions between very different ideological groups — from economic leftwingers to free market libertarians.”