Suzanne Evans, Ukip, on Matt Forde's "The Political Party"

Okay,  this is another podcast post. Well, not totally, it’s also about comedy and politics (I’ll try to let you know which is which). If you haven’t come across ‘Matt Forde’s Political Party’ before, imagine walking out of the room before the end of ‘Live at The Apollo’ and coming back in after ‘Question Time’ has started. As a format it sounds about as viable as Craig Levein’s revolutionary 4-6-0 tactic that he employed so miserably as Scotland manager, but actually it works exceptionally well and that’s a testament to Forde’s tremendous personal affability (and childishly contagious laugh).

A former political adviser in the Blair government, Forde is an unabashed Blairite – if you can refer to someone who talks about Tony Blair as though they were a mixture of Jesus, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Stuart Pearce as ‘just’ a Blairite – who has been holding these events regularly for the last 2-3 years. They’re uploaded as live events and the rapport between host and crowd adds greatly to the experience.

And they’re well worth listening to; regular readers of TVFA1 (of whom there are none) will know that I regard the Conservatives as somewhere between Necrotising Fascitis and Female Genital Mutilation in terms of desirability, but the show featuring former Conservative Vice-Chairman Michael Fabricant was 90 of the funniest, most anarchic minutes my ears have lived through.

The latest episode (linked above) features his third Ukip guest, Deputy Chair Suzanne Evans. I think to many Evans must be regarded as Ukip’s secret weapon, combining charm, intelligence and poise and providing a valuable counterpoint to the cult of Farage and Paul Nuttall’s tired everyman shtick. Describing herself as “centre-right-ish”, she is credited with creating Ukip’s first realistic manifesto, although personally I think that it was a shame we had to lose some of Ukip’s more progressive policies from the previous manifesto:

  • Encouraging “a return to the glamour, grace and style of the railway companies of the past”
  • Giving MPs more freedom over their expenses
  • Flat rate income tax of 31% for all incomes over £11,500
  • More swearing of allegiance to the Queen

Honestly, I can’t tell why everyone thought Ukip were as mad as a bag of left-handed spanners. Of her new manifesto, Evans says that it’s simply so good the media have ignored it.

And in that lies Evans’ weakness. Whilst an experienced political professional and lucid communicator, it occasionally feels like the polish is literally a veneer. A number of times she puts words into her colleagues’ mouths: “no, what he meant by that was…” and “I’m sure what he meant to say was…” and it feels like she’s making up policy and deciding the party line as she goes along. It’s perfectly possible that part of her brief includes smoothing over the rest of the party’s crass communication, but occasionally that comes across as sneering. When Forde talks about the SNP’s success and asks if they are a party that Ukip should aim to emulate, she answers with a dismissive “don’t be daft”. When asked about Godfrey Bloom’s idiotic rants, she’s quick to play down the offence that he caused. I’m sure the party is keen to move on from slags from Bongo-Bongo Land, but dismissing racism and sexism so flippantly doesn’t feel like a wise move.

Whilst discussing the immigrant crisis, she bats away claims that migrants are net contributors to the economy, pointing to a separate study by the impartially-named MigrationWatch which disputes those figures. She makes it clear that amongst her concerns is a worry that there’s insufficient housing, whilst neglecting to mention (not surprisingly) that she owned two homes and was part-owner of a third.

On the flipside, she’s a vociferous campaigner against FGM, and has to be lauded for the achievement in moving the popular perception of her party away from being a single-issue klan of sexist pub bores and casual racists (albeit to an agitprop professional political party full of sexist pub bores and casual racists).

Forde asks directly about that single issue: “what would Ukip do if the UK did leave the EU?” Evans didn’t have a prepared answer, which does point to a lack of ambition and belief in their own mission. Whilst their policies have moved on from pledging to restore the Crown symbol on pint glasses and they can point to many more votes than the 56 MP Scottish Nationalist Party, it does show that Ukip has a long way to go before it can really count itself part of the highest echelon of UK politics.