Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Bob's election priorities no.2: Contain the rise of UKIP

I'm running out of time for this series, and I've left the most important posts for last...


UKIP's support has clearly receded after reaching its high tide mark; I think that my prediction in May still holds that when push comes to shove and the electorate actually votes on a government people will step back from the UKIP brink. However, we can't be complacent. Even if UKIP gets a single figure number of MPs (not the dozen or more it was  expecting a few weeks ago or the sizeable number its European election performance suggested), its presence in parliament is a very bad sign. The possibility of UKIP shoring up a minority Conservative government is even scarier (and surely far, far worse than the SNP shoring up a minority Labour government).

I guess in this post I only have four points I want to make.

1. UKIP is not the party of working people
It makes me infuriated that so many chattering class pundits trot out the line that UKIP is somehow speaking the voice of "the ordinary man" or the working class. This narrative has been boosted by Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford's concept of "the left behind", which found that the constituencies UKIP has polled well in are a little whiter, a little more working class and a lot older than the UK average, a fact that has been translated by the commentariat into the claim that UKIP appeals to working class people. In fact, Lord Ashcroft's polls are consistent in showing that UKIP's support is among C2 but not DE voters, and that it is unpopular among working class women and young working class people. Recent British Election Survey data finds it is a part of small businesses:

the working class basis of Ukip has been strongly overstated.The Party’s strongest supporters are often the self-employed and business owners... Even within the working class, Ukippers tend to be low level supervisors, and not the disadvantaged semi and unskilled workers often thought to provide the core of the Party’s support.
And not surprisingly. UKIP was founded by Alan Sked, an Oxford graduate and (like Ralph Miliband) an LSE professor. Its leader Nigel Farage went to Dulwich College, one of the most elite private schools in England; his father was a Kent stockbroker and his career has been in banking. Its two MPs, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, went to private schools (Reckless to Marlborough, another of the most elite schools in the UK). Its main funder is investment banker Stuart Wheeler, who went to Eton and Oxford.

None of its policies are designed to benefit working people. It has flip-flopped on the NHS; it supports lower taxes for the rich; on education it favours grammar schools which by definition leave the majority of kids with second class schooling; it has no strategy for ensuring people in work get decent pay; it is aggressively opposed to trade unions.

2. UKIP is a one-trick pony
Although launched to combat the EU, most people in the UK don't really care that much about the EU. So UKIP realises that it reaches people if it talks about one single topic: immigration. As soon as asked to talk about any other topic, its spokespeople flounder about. Even if immigration is a topic many people care about, it's only one issue. I find it genuinely scary a party might have MPs who can hold the balance of power in a hung parliament voted for by people who don't actually know what its policy is on topics such as hospitals or housing.

3. UKIP is the truly nasty party
As I said before, it is absurd to call UKIP fascist (as ignorant liberals do). Certainly, its voters and supporters support it for all sorts of reasons; most of them are no more racist than the rest of us. But the sheer number of fascists who have endorsed UKIP, joined it, or stood for office under its banner is terrifying. To take just a few examples: Derek Wilkes, the Wigan candidate who is a fan of the fascist British First; Jack Sen, the candidate in West Lancashire who told a Jewish MP: “You’re about authentic Labour as Ed Miliband. Protect child benefits? If you had it your way you’d send the £ to Poland/ Israel.”; Christopher Gillibrand, the Welsh candidaite involved in a far right group which told Stephen Lawrence's mother to go home; Bill Walker, the Aldershot candidate who said that Nepali Gurkha servicemen are "parasites"; candidate John Leathley who fantasised on Facebook about Yasmin Alibhai-Brown getting raped; Robert Blay in Hampshire, who said he'd shoot his "not British enough" Asian Tory rival in the face; Janice Atkinson, the MEP who described a Thai constituent on television as a “ting tong”; or Anne Marie Waters, the Lewisham East candidate, who is starting an anti-Muslim group with the founder of the EDL.

What is worrying is that each time this happens, it doesn't seem to affect the UKIP polling rates. UKIP's existence makes unspeakable racism acceptable, and that makes politics in general nastier.

4. UKIP sets the agenda for the other parties
Nigel Farage's two big political heroes are Vladimir Putin, who represents the kind of macho authoritarian nationalism Farage also embodies, and David Owen. Farage once said:
"The SDP didn't last very long, but it won, because actually they finished up with Tony Blair who was an SDP Prime Minister. They fundamentally changed the entire Labour party. Foot and Benn and the hard left were all gone, and you got a new modernising labour party… so if ever there was a successful pressure group in British politics, it was the SDP."
Just as New Labour (and Cameron's Tories) morphed their parties into versions of the SDP, the Tories (and Miliband's Labour) are keen to out-UKIP Farage's party. That's scary. And the smaller the UKIP vote is tomorrow, the less likely that is to happen.



Previously:
UKIP's bigotry comes to Lewisham East.

3 comments:

Roland Dodds said...

I also find the rise of UKIP to be an issue for all the reasons you outlined here. They are surely not the party most would want ruling Britain. With that in mind, the fact that the major parties rarely address the concerns of existing workers following the campaign season, is a reason these groups are on the rise in Europe.

I am not sure what model could be used as an alternative to the current immigration policies, but recognizing that immigration does change communities needs to be better addressed by parties of the left.

I am no longer sure where I stand in regards to immigration, but I would like to see more left activists address those fears and concerns with greater vigor than they have.

bob said...

Roland, I agree. I think the British left has failed in not engaging with those working class people who have these concerns. The left has not made the case for conviviality, diversity or more open borders, but taken a moralistic stance towards those who oppose those things. The middle class left, having evacuated working class communities long ago, has failed to understand English identity and working class patriotism. Liberals sneer at white working class people and dismiss anyone who supports UKIP or reads the Mail as stupid and duped.

On the other hand, the middle class left has also acquiesced in the right's narrow definition of working class to mean ageing, white, male and bigoted, and so been . The reality is that the British working class is of more or less every colour, faith and culture as there is in the world. Most migrants are working class too, and even the the most thoroughly English-seeming of working class families have migration histories threaded through them, not least because of our history of empire and military adventurism. White working class cultures are unthinkable without the influence of the cultures of the British empire. We desperately need to recover the idea of the working class as forged in work and struggle, and dump the idea of the working class as some frozen in time residue of left-behind old men.

Brian Goldfarb said...

To the extent that UKIP does have working class support, the phrase coined by Karl Marx comes to mind (which, while not being a Marxist, still seems apposite): lumpen proletariat.

Otherwise, many of those apparently inclined to UKIP might be labelled as disaffected petit bourgeois.

Sadly, rather typical of successful fascist movements of the 1920s and 30s.