UKIP is exploiting anti-establishment, (and opposition to EU) sentiment to channel discontent into its pro-business, xenophobic platform.
The title comes from an article written by expert commentator on British politics and culture Richard Seymour. In his article ‘The UKIP-ization of English politics’, he examines the emergence of the racist, ultra-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) as a major third electoral force on the English political landscape. Seymour deconstructs their populistic phrases, disguising a hard-right anti-immigrant bigotry. It is well worth reading Seymour’s incisive analysis in its entirety.
Previously, the current author has examined the rise of the ultra-right xenophobic parties in Europe. The surge of UKIP in recent months gives us reason to evaluate the ongoing threat of the ultra-right party, the crisis in the British ruling establishment, and how working class anger at years of austerity and cutbacks is being channeled into creating a mass, racist and right-wing populist party as a respectable alternative.
UKIP is pushing politics in Britain to the ultra-right. The traditional parliamentary alternatives, the two main bourgeois parties, are undergoing a crisis of legitimacy. They are strongly associated with the unpopular policies of austerity and the corresponding impoverishment that they have caused. UKIP is exploiting this breech in the parliamentary walls and gaining support from its anti-EU and populist rhetoric.
UKIP speaks for those sections of the English ruling class who are Euro-sceptic, a strong undercurrent in the existing Tory party. Withdrawal from the European Union, it is contended, would be more advantageous for the English establishment in the view of the Euro-sceptics. Basing themselves on anti-immigrant hostility and British national chauvinism, these ruling class circles regard abandoning the European Union as a viable measure, intending to further pursue the exploitation of the working class through more privatisation and deregulation.
Rochester and Strood seat is the second parliamentary victory for UKIP, after the defection of a second Conservative MP to that party. The Conservatives lost the seat of Clacton earlier this year when another Tory MP defected to UKIP. These defections reflect widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling Tory-LibDem coalition government.
This is a strong blow to the Tories, but Labour cannot take any consolation from this situation. While Labour hung on to win the by-election in the seat of Heywood and Middleton earlier this year, it was a narrow victory, with Labour hemorrhaging votes and disaffected Tory voters supporting UKIP.
This situation is not just another turn in the inevitable fluctuations of bourgeois politics. There is deepening concern at the pervasive economic and social problems of capitalism, and electoral protests like this are symptomatic of deep-seated hostility to the Westminster establishment.
UKIP is posing as a defender of the average working person, expressing populist hostility to the Westminster elites. This is a perverse claim, given that UKIP originates from that very Westminster elite. The supporters and backers of UKIP originate in the highest echelons of the British financial oligarchy. The leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, is a wealthy stockbroker and former Conservative party member. The treasurer of the UKIP party, Stuart Wheeler, is himself an Eton-educated businessman. The list of the party’s influential bankrollers goes on. UKIP is most definitely a party lead by a section of the ultra-wealthy aristocratic elite. But make no mistake – UKIP has been able to attract disaffected voters from all classes of society, including working class people.
Owen Jones, columnist in The Guardian and expert commentator on British politics, elaborates that while UKIP originates from the elite part of town, the beliefs and sentiments that propel its supporters are often those that are advocated by the Left. The leaders of UKIP are unashamedly ultra-Thatcherite in their politics, their voting base, polled on several occasions, support traditional left-wing demands such renationalisation of railways and banks, higher taxes on the rich, and an increase in the minimum wage. While UKIP portrays itself as a people’s revolt against the establishment, it is basing itself on the very real grievances that the working class has against the policies and programme of the British financial elite.
The Tory party is facing a terminal crisis, and the Labour party is not in much better shape. UKIP has appealed to disaffected Tory voters, pushing its anti-immigrant and anti-EU message in the short term to pick up seats. But is electoral success, while worrying, is only part of the larger picture. After years of austerity, preceded by economic policies that have seen industries shut down, communities abandoned because of closing factories and lack of employment, the privatisation of education and the closing of educational opportunities for the poor, people are hurting economically. Disillusioned with the main parties that have delivered variations of the same free-market fundamentalist ideology, people are looking for a political alternative.
Jo Cardwell, writing for the Socialist Review magazine, writes that UKIP is dragging British politics to the Right, having successfully exploited the convergence of three political factors; anti-austerity, anger at the British establishment, and anti-immigrant and anti-refugee racism. Working class communities throughout Britain have been decimated over decades of relentless ruling class attacks on their jobs and living conditions. As Owen Jones writes in his Guardian article:
Over the last generation or so, working class identity, culture and community have faced a relentless battering. Many of the old skilled jobs – back-breaking and male-dominated as they could be –gave people a sense of pride, but were stripped from the economy. Industries that were once the focal point of communities disintegrated. A sense of solidarity, sometimes cemented by a strong trade union movement, was eroded.
In some working class communities, a sense of Englishness filled the vacuum. I grew up near the centre of Stockport: publicly displayed English flags were not uncommon.
English nationalism has indeed been a social cement, bringing together once-thriving communities now afflicted by the combined problems of immiseration and unemployment. Flying the English flag is just one outward symbol of a people discarded by an economic system that treats them as disposable commodities, reaching as they are for some sense of belonging. The outsider is the migrant, the refugee, the alleged ‘threat’ that they pose not just to ‘Englishness’, but now transformed into an economic menace. The Labour Party, basically dancing to UKIP’s tune, has lost much of its traditional working class base as its has implemented the capitalist programme of cutbacks and privatisation, policies that have undermined working class solidarity.
However, economic crisis does not inevitably mean the rise of anti-immigrant UKIP-style parties. Owen Jones, writing in The Guardian, provides an elaborate description of a successful, politically powerful and left-wing alternative that has emerged out of economic chaos – Podemos in Spain. There is no doubt that Spain has experienced an unmitigated economic disaster, with high unemployment and declining living standards. Yet the Podemos political party, capitalising on the anti-establishment and anti-politics sentiment of the people, has surged ahead as a strong political alternative offering the politics of hope for the disaffected. It is an unfolding and burgeoning Green Left political alternative.