This said, UKIP aren't a fascist party. Nor are they symptomatic of a creeping fascism. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, UKIP are part of an ongoing process of decomposition. Mainstream politics has been through the blender. Throw in the solids (some might say stolids) of the two-party system, switch it on and the end result is something more viscous. That is basically what's happened to politics since the late 1970s, though the social blender works slowly and on a longer timescale. The old solidarities that held up two party dominance have melted. On the one hand the labour movement remains a substantial body of considerable potential social power, but the vast majority of those who pay into it do not, unfortunately, participate beyond their monthly dues. But on the other, the Conservative movement - the web of grass roots organisations, Tory clubs, and back scratching societies - have fared much worse. Under the reign of the blessed Margaret, Tory party membership halved from just over a million to around 500,000. That decline has continued to the point where the party can barely muster 100,000 members - and there's very little chance the direction of travel will change. Voters are also increasingly likely to support third parties at the ballot box. 65% supported the two main parties in 2010. In 1979 it was 81%. The trend is more pronounced in second order elections - look at last quarter's local by-election results, for example. The only thing propping up two party dominance of national politics is the antiquated first-past-the-post system, which discriminates against smaller parties.
UKIP have certainly been helped by a great deal of favourable media coverage, just as the BNP were last decade. Yet the media is the catalyst - UKIP would have come to nought if British politics wasn't in a crisis of decomposition. So UKIP is more than just an obsession about the EU, it speaks to the diffuse anti-establishment, anti-politics sentiment of the right. This feeds off anxiety about immigrants, about modern life, about Britain's place in the world. UKIP is the libertarian party that opposes same sex couples marrying and opposes foreign workers from getting jobs by virtue of their birthplace. They mainly speak and find an echo among white men of a certain age, and promise a splendidly isolated Britain that whistles with arcadian ignorance of the rest of the world. UKIP knows it cannot stop the world, but will try its damnedest to get off.
Here too, the fraying of the Conservative party rends UKIP too. The ingredients for long-term decline are all there. A ragtag and bobtail party organisation stuffed with misfits and misanthropes, a backward-looking set of ideas out of kilter with modern life, and a core constituency that is literally dying. A greater proportion of its support now will not see the general election than any of the other parties. Their rise is a flame that flares brightly just before it eats the remainder of the wick. But nothing in politics is inevitable. A party is not a passive victim of social forces. It can ride them, and UKIP has proven adept at that; and it can change them. A party can affect social relations so it stands to be nourished from them - the Tories have tried doing this on many occasions. And Labour should consciously and actively pursue this too.
It's in this context we should understand UKIP's new poster campaign that recalls the British Jobs for British Workers populism of Gordon Brown and the BNP. Two of the three posters firmly and squarely blame immigration for unemployment, and represent a deliberate attempt to whip up anxiety and hate. But as it's European Union free movement in UKIP's sights, it's definitely not racist. Oh no. For those interested, Channel 4 have checked their claims, which range from wanting to what you call in politics "factually accurate". Yet in the game of Brussels thrones, this is more than standard vote-catching.
UKIP needs to stabilise its base. As the 2009 European elections, the 2010 general election and dozens of local authority elections showed, there is a small but significant level of support in core Labour areas - particularly mainly white and mainly working class inner city areas and suburbs - who are prepared to vote for an outright fascist party in protest. Some of that number have returned to Labour, though I doubt with much enthusiasm, while others still want to send a message to an uncaring, remote establishment. Understandably given the similar rhetoric and imagery, UKIP are keen to swallow up those former BNP voters. This, however, is not the limit of UKIP's ambition. There is a long tradition among certain layers of the working class to vote Conservative. I know, this is the milieu I grew up in. The Tories, notwithstanding their ridiculous (and already forgotten) push to promote themselves the "workers' party" have long-abandoned any pretence of being anything other than a party for the very rich. This is UKIP's chance to grab as large a chunk of Tory workers as possible. And as any psephologist will tell you, the more often you can get someone to vote for you in elections that "don't matter", the greater the chance they will later on in the ones that do.
More interestingly is the second, more cunning aspect of this turn to the workers. Farage will not say it, but you don't need to be gifted with special insight to know he would prefer a Tory general election win in 2015. This is more than political preference, however. UKIP are targeting the Labour heartlands with their message. Despite Labour voters proving more resilient than former Tory supporters, Farage is appearing to throw a bone to the panicking Tory right pressing for some sort of accommodation with UKIP. Their reasoning is if only UKIP focus on Labour the damage UKIP support will do the Tories in 2015 might be mitigated. And from his point of view his anti-Labour posturing will curry favour with some backbenchers whose feet are getting rather itchy. Pity the fools that don't realise he's making a play for the right of centre non Labour-voting working class. Yet in matters of strategy, quite apart from preferences a Tory win in 2015 suits UKIP's interest better. If Dave carries on "betraying" traditional Toryism UKIP will continue to gorge on their cast offs. The general election, in which Farage very well knows is likely to yield few if any seats, need not be the moment marking UKIP's declining purchase.
These posters were designed and conceived to hoover up votes. However, in the grand scheme of political things they represent a direction of travel in UKIP's march to effectively lock down a constituency. Their racist workerism is more than a pose, they want ex-BNP, anti-politics types, and ex-Tory voting members of the working class on their side. It's not about challenging Labour but supplanting the Conservatives. And with the latter effectively abandoning the field to them, UKIP may well have taken its first significant step in doing so.