Sunday, 16 November 2014

Are UKIP "Profoundly Un-British"?

Former Prime Minister John Major certainly thinks so. I believe the answer is more nuanced than that. Speaking on Andrew Marr this morning, the grey man of politics said UKIP were un-British because they are "anti-everything", particularly "anti-foreigner" and "anti-immigrant". He added that this is "the negativity of the four-ale bar. That’s not the way to get into Parliament, it’s not the way to run a country." Finally, Major mused that as the economy gets better, you can expect UKIP support to die back. Possibly, John, put only if people's sense of self-security gets better.

On the general charge of being "un-British", what does that actually mean? Can on be un-Danish, un-French, un-Polish? It seems like a silly attack to make. Or, to be more accurate, it would have been nonsensical to level such a charge say 20 years ago. Since then nationality in Britain, and particularly Britishness has undergone a profound change. In a process of rewriting from above and below, what it means to be British is to be tolerant, inclusive, respectful, and polite. It's an identity predicated around sets of "British values", such as liberty, freedom of speech, conscience and religion, of sticking up for the underdog, playing fair, and securing by common endeavour a health service free at the point of need.

How does UKIP measure up to these facets of contemporary Britishness? Not very well. It peddles lies and bigotry about immigrants, blames the least powerful for problems generated at the top, feels profoundly threatened by "alien" cultures and would like to see some visible expression of faiths, such as the hijab, banned outright. It also thinks gay people should not be allowed to marry, denying them a liberty afforded heterosexual couples; and Farage himself have been caught on tape favouring an American-style system of privatised health cover. Slam dunk to John Major then.

This Britishness, however, is very recent. In many ways it has come to resemble the character of Americanness. From the outset, the US and its nationalism were predicated around sets of values and promises. These are set down in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. American national identity is explicitly an ideological - in the wide sense - project. If you come to America, accept the values on which it is founded, and spend the rest of your life as a US passport holder, you are as American as anyone born there. And, potentially, anyone can become American. Multiculturalism from below and inclusively-minded initiatives from official society have adapted Britishness along the same lines. Originally an elite project to cohere the ruling classes of the multinational United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, it had a certain inclusiveness already built in, albeit one directed outwards to Johnny Foreigner and colonial land grabs. The retreat from Empire, starting with Irish independence down to decolonisation saw that construct colonised by imperial nostalgia. It was clung to more tightly as the original wellspring ran to a trickle and dried up. After being mobilised by Thatcher in support of the Falklands adventure, and the occasional bit of official flag waving for national occasions, the association of Britishness with narrowness and unreconstructed nationalism proceeded until the 1990s, where the perfect storm of footballing success, a self-consciously British musical movement, New Labour, the popular rejection of racism, and the growing integration and social mobility of minority ethnicities begat its reinvention. It follows that being British is no longer predicated being born on this island.

All that was horrible, stupid and bigoted about "old" Britishness has not gone away, but has found a home in UKIP. And it too has changed. UKIP is less a British and more an English nationalist party. Britishness has been ceded to the metropolitans, the lefties, and "the ethnics" while it seeks to cohere a base around a very white notion of traditionalism, nationalism, and a paternal relationship with the Commonwealth. It responds to the uncertainty of a new Britain in the age of globalisation by counterposing a narrow Englishness, that nevertheless remains thoroughly British - even if its legitimacy is not what it used to be. As such UKIP are an embarrassment, a throwback, an atavistic reminder - especially to the centre right - of the awful, toxic politics that are very, very British too. That is part of UKIP's appeal. And is one of the reasons why more thoughtful Tories with the longer term view, like Major, are very keen to put clear water between his party and theirs.


Speedy said...

Surely it should be "is" UKIP... etc?

Certainly New Lab attempted to rebrand Britain and Britishness, but did they re-brand the British?

The attitudes and behaviour of UKIPers are far more consistent with "John Bull" Englishness stretching back centuries than 20 years of cultural reprogramming by the bourgeois elite.

John Major plays tribal politics, but it is saying something when this widely derided politician was possibly the best we have had since 97 - Labour taking the credit for his economic renewal then smashing his managed migration policies with their cultural free for all.

And now look at us. Even FPTP may not keep UKIP in check - the UK looks like it is about to disappear down a toilet of self-loathing, the EU attracting all the blame.

This is all consistent with global and historic trends - look at India and the multi-confessional society the UK will best come to resemble (and where experience of communal strife was said to be behind Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech) - here the BJP is back and ever more hardline.

Or France, FFS. And this is just the beginning.

Capitalist/ universalist/ materialist concepts competing with bog standard human nature. We are barely out of the caves, as we demonstrate time and time and time again.

asquith said...

Who even knows what UKIP are any more? Certainly not kippers themselves, united in grievance against a modern world they can't hack living in but divided in every other sense.

asquith said...

Speedy, you appear (correct me if I'm wrong) to be advocating something akin to the Front Nationale in France, as are roughly half of UKIP voters.

But you won't be getting that from Farrago, Carswell, and the rest of the funamentally right-wing libertarians who have tacked immigration onto a particular agenda that is anti-EU because it's against "red tape" (presumably no one needs to be told what that really means) and is essentially globalist.

Farrago is about as nationalist as me, and that's a fact. There are millions of nationalists, a large proportion of whom will vote for him, but they'll have nowt to show for it.

I am curious as to the way Britain First, having all but given up appealing to actual voters, are loudly trumpeting their support for Reckless. I think it's not mucch more than a standard acknowledgement that they themselves are no-hopers, but I can't figure it out.

Moderate Tories, or people who put their X next to Conservative candidates but can't really be called "Tories" in the sterotypical sense that conjures up, are the dog that has yet to bark. They won't allow Shameron to ignore them forever, as he degenerates into being Farrago Jr.

Let sunshine win the day? No more!

Speedy said...

Advocating? No. Just describing. The NF is born of a French tradition of reaction going back to Dreyfus, just as UKIP to me seems very British. Of course its voters may not understand its actual politics but that is hardly the point - this is about the Gordon Riots not libertarianism.

An interesting point however - i may be wrong now and again but describing should not be confused with advocating - it is remarkable how often that happens here. Certainly by refering to Enoch i was half expecting some Leftist Borg to start calling me a fascist (again).

The truth terrifies some people. Actually i loathe ukip and all they stand for, but i understand why they exist. Imho the bourgois had a terrible shock post 45 when they almost lost their grip on power and have been back peddling ever since. English Socialism, as Orwell would put it, died shortly thereafter, and the so-called "Left" with all its periferal concerns is simply a front for bourgeois power. It's quite simple really, but maybe you have to step back to see it - how the left and right conspire to divide amd marginalise the prols for their own advantage.

asquith said...

Speedy, I apologise for misunderstanding your views.

But I think you, and all readers, will understand my remarks about kippers. The recent murmurs from the libertarians in UKIP (with whom Farrago sympathises in his private views, although he knows better than to express his private views these days) against Patrick O'Flynn confirm what I said, and linked to in that link above.

That is the main thrust of what I was saying.