Sunday, 16 February 2014

Why UKIP Will Not Die

Ideas are very hard to kill, especially if they're adhered to by a swathe of the population. Among other things, that's what political parties are (officially) about. There are certain principles or collections of ideas espoused by different organisations. Sometimes they're bundled up in coalitions of like-minds, like the Conservatives and Labour. Sometimes they're spotless and pure - step forward the sects on the far left and the far right. And, on occasion, a party can act as a lightning rod of discontent born of a variety of grumbles. That mantle, once the preserve of the Liberal Democrats, has seen that torch pass to the UK Independence Party. And as the fourth party in UK-wide politics, it would be churlish to deny that UKIP haven't done a good job running with it. Regularly outpolling the LibDems, coming second in a string of by-elections, picking up about 160 councillors in last year's county elections, and carving out third place in 2013's local authority by-elections, the party's done good. And on top of that it's received political sense that they will top this year's European elections. Ironic that UKIP's profile relies on electoral success for a body they avowedly hate. 

Looking forward to a profitable year for them, why is it John Rentoul writes of its coming demise in today's Indy?

Here's John arguing why its flush will be truly busted after May 2015:
Whoever wins the election, Ukip's habitat will change. If Cameron wins, he will hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. Ukip would be prominent in the "No" campaign, but after the referendum – even if it's a No victory, which seems unlikely – the party would no longer have a purpose. If Ed Miliband wins the election, a referendum is not so certain, but a Conservative Party in opposition would be freed from the constraint of office and might become so anti-EU that Ukip would, again, become unnecessary.
John might well be proven right if political parties were about ideas. But they're not just about ideas. UKIP, like all political parties, speak to the lives of those who are attracted to them. They appeal to habit, emotions, traditions, aspirations, interests, concerns, and world views not because they have ultra-coherent outlooks, but because they have something about them that can allow for the projection of some or all of these things onto them by members, supporters and voters. Needless to say, the movement and flows of people and politics are not utterly random. They are patterned. On social scales, similar life experiences tend to produce regularities among outlooks and probable inclinations toward certain parties and social movements. Simplistically put, it's why big business and the affluent are more likely to support conservative parties, and why working class people - blue and white collar - incline towards labour and social democratic parties.

UKIP's support can be explained in more or less the same way. Its core vote is middle-aged-to-elderly white men, working class and (small business-owing) middle class. The membership and voter base built up recently is mainly drawn from the Tories. But last decade the party did well too, especially in the 2004 and 2009 European elections. The disproportionate three-to-one ration from former Conservatives vs former Labour masks its appeal to the anti-politics brigade, that disenchanted layer of, yes, mainly middle-aged and elderly people for whom modern Britain is an anxiety-inducing, unfamiliar place on the fast track to Sodom. Or something like that. Having grown up in a more secure and certain period, the economic precarity of neoliberalism's 30 years has torn at a social fabric simultaneously coming to terms with rapid technological change, mass immigration, important victories for women and BME and sexual minorities, and a deepening irreverence. For a section of that post-war generation, it means they don't feel at home in their home. As for official politics, forget it. The three main parties neither address these concerns or, worst of all, dismisses them out of hand. Anti-politics therefore has a constituency and, in UKIP, a successful vehicle. Here you have a party saying the unsayable, with a leader who thumbs his nose at too-cosy Westminster with a pint in hand and a Marlboro between his lips. A party who will stop immigration and take us out of the nannying EU. Its basic pitch is perfect for the projection of anxieties conditioned by class, gender and age; it is the mouthpiece of a materially constituted, partially politicised and sociologically discernible constituency of people.

Taking John's scenarios in turn, in the unlikely event of the Tories winning outright in 2015 followed by a No win in the referendum, UKIP's ostensible raison d'etre collapses. But that anti-politics constituency isn't going anywhere, so why should the party? It's not as if Westminster politics will become any less remote if the UK waltzes out the exit door. If anything, without the EU to shelter in, Britain is even more at the mercy of global economic headwinds. Life post-EU, compounded by reckless austerity and market fundamentalism will be a country in far sharper decline and greater unease. Who, apart from UKIP, are positioned to benefit from anomic despair? And if Labour wins, a veer to the right by a post-Dave Tory party is unlikely to stymie UKIP any. Sure, some former Tories might find their way back - assuming the Tories do make such a suicidal move. Whether it's Boris Johnson or Theresa May who takes the reins, both are canny enough to want to steer a centre course to try and win in 2020. And remember, Johnson is on record for favouring an immigration amnesty. The second point here is even if the Tories behave as John expects them to, UKIP will be okay. You don't have to play thought experiments here - look at history. During Michael Howard's 2003-2005 caretaker leadership of the Tories, its politics became markedly more hostile towards immigrants, travellers and the EU. How did UKIP manage with Tory tanks chewing up and ruining their lawn? 12 MEPs and two London Assembly members. The constituency was there. It's still there. And it's not going anywhere.

Unlike John, I don't think UKIP bring anything positive to politics at all. It poisons reasoned debate and raises the toxicity rate of public discourse. I'd much rather it didn't exist. But wishes and reality are not the same thing. UKIP lives because it responds to real social divisions, articulates and condenses real life experiences. Leaving the EU or spinning the Tories off rightward won't fix that. The only thing that could would be a consistent, determined and long-term effort to rebuild political trust, and that in itself will only work by dealing with the precarious, uncertain society. Is politics up to it?

9 comments:

Loz said...

I'm not entirely sure why the Westminster political circus continues with portraying UKIP as a recent flash in the pan. 10 years ago UKIP had failed TV chatshow host Kilroy elected to to the European parliament and parading around the media being as offensive as possible. However, everyone was preoccupied with the success of the BNP at the time, so UKIP were paid no attention at all.

With more than 10 years of consistent obnoxious antipolitics, UKIP support is deeply embedded in a large section of the baby boomer generation, even those that at one time may have considered themselves as progressive or radical. It will not die overnight, and a poorer than expected electoral showing this May, or even a referendum on Europe will not make it go away.

If Scotland votes to go it alone (and I would if I were in Scotland), I think we could easily see the Kingdom of England outside of the EU with a UKIP/Tory coalition in charge with extended powers for the hereditary monarchy as we descend into hard right wing obnoxiousness ever further.

UKIP is a worse threat to the few good things that remain in this country than the BNP or NF ever were.

Sanjay Mittal said...

“I don't think UKIP bring anything positive to politics at all. It poisons reasoned debate…”. Absolutely hilarious. So your average Labour or Tory politician is a beacon of reason and logic?

What I think you mean is that you personally disagree with UKIP, but can’t think of any good reasons for doing so. So as a substitute you throw insults at them like “they poison reasoned debate”.

Phil said...

How does making demonstrably false statements about immigration not poison political debate?

Speedy said...

"How does making demonstrably false statements about immigration not poison political debate?"

What, you mean like "we don't expect more than 15,000 immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe over the next three years."?

Or... [we took forward a secret plan to open the door to mass immigration] "to rub the right's nose in diversity"?

This is why people lost faith Phil - they saw their communities transformed and they felt alienated.

This may all appear somewhat vulgar to sophisticated "universalists" like yourself, but ordinary working class people (you know, the ones Labour once was supposed to represent) tend to derive their identity from their roots and don't appreciate being shouted down as "racist" or "bigoted" if they complain about policies being imposed upon them they never voted for.

Boursin said...

Or... [we took forward a secret plan to open the door to mass immigration] "to rub the right's nose in diversity"?

So that, for instance, is a demonstrably false statement then?

Phil said...

Speedy, I don't know why you think I look down on working people. You forget where I come from and where my political activity (mainly) takes place. But understanding and explaining the antipathies that are rooted in the materiality of people's perceptions of mass immigration is not the same thing as calling out UKIP and the right wing press for peddling outright lies and hate.

Speedy said...

Fair enough and you are right i have no right to get personal.

However i do not think you can divide the two - i get irritated because i see the ukip the edl et al as a symptom of the cause - the deception by the Left.

Dont misunderstand me - i believe the post 97 policies were simply wrong. A betrayal of the working class - because they weakened their bargaining power further, they served to fragment class consciousness and undermine people's sense of place (and therefore identity and stake in society). Furthermore Labour managed to turn back the clock on race relations (as it used to be known) by taking off the brakes, unsettling communities, and suppressing dissent.

And, imho, this served its purpose - it sought to "replace" the wc it "lost" by literally importing an alternative and dressing this self-interest up in fellow feeling while consigning millions to benefits street, which never had anything to do with socialism. Shameful (and i do know what i am talking about).

So i see ukip and edl, its ugly brother, as direct result of these wreckless bourgeois policies. Having said that, apart from labeling me as paranoid (incidentally i do see much of this as a subconscious process on the part of Labour) i would welcome it being explained to me why i am wrong because these beliefs do not give me much pleasure!

Boursin - lies by omission. .

Gary Elsby said...

The best one I've heard in years is the loon on radio 2 who said that the Somerset levels would not have been flooded if we hadn't received so many immigrants.

That's what I call class.

Kamo said...

It's good that the political chattering classes are starting to move away from the disgruntled ex-Tory stereotype as it really is misleading and therefore of no help in understanding what is going on. I was present at the East Surrey count in last May's Surrey County elections, UKIP did pretty well, taking a seat from Conservatives and overtaking Fib-Dems in many places.

A local senior Fib-Dem having seen his candidate trounced into third place behind UKIP (the UKIP candidate was a muppet, the Fib-Dem a long-standing, competent, if somewhat boorish and pompous local politician)turned to me and blamed all "your disaffected Tories" for what was quite clearly a collapse in the Fib-Dem vote! UKIP may have eaten into the Tory vote, but it's impact on Fib-Dems was far more damaging.