Standing up to UKIP? A Critical Appraisal.
Will this Defeat UKIP?
Some on the left remain in mourning for the failure of the Scottish referendum to “bring their country into the world of free and sovereign nations”. Some console themselves that Alba is already a “transformed, empowered country.” (Neil Ascherson. Observer. 21.8.14.)
Westminster Centralism appears on the wane. A large constituency demands a “grant of real responsibility to local communities.” This means, they say, a change in the structure of the British constitution, perhaps an English parliament, certainly greater control for regions and cities inside and outwith Scotland’s borders.
Constitutional issues are not the preserve of Scottish nationalists or the new regionalists. UKIP has made its transition from pressure group to serious political contender by demanding that Britain be ‘free’ from the legislative power of the European Union. The issue of sovereignty is the central concern of Nigel Farage’s party. UKIP is, first and foremost, anti-EU. It wants ‘independence’ for the British people from ‘Brussels’. It is not ‘Eurosceptic’; it is Europhobic.
The Scottish separatists want to see the back of ‘Westminster’, for the good of their own people. Some, notably in the SNP, claim to see the European Union as a positive force that would help them towards that aim. With their common concern with national power we can call both parties, despite this major difference on the EU, “sovereigntists.” The party once led by Alex Salmond believes in a limited degree of pooled sovereignty in order to ‘save the nation state’ (as Milward called it), UKIP is simply wants to shore up the nation state. (1)
Stand up to UKIP.
Left-wing activists, called to support the campaign Stand up to UKIP, which plans a major demonstration outside the Party’s conference next weekend, can be forgiven for forgetting the word “independence” in the title. The launch of this campaign, after all, declares,
“It has built up its electoral base by both presenting itself as a party opposed to the European Union, but more importantly by spreading poisonous lies and hatred towards migrants and Muslims. We believe UKIP is a racist party. This may be something Farage and the party’s leadership is quick to deny. But in the run up to the European elections UKIP’s mask slipped. UKIP presents the anti-racist movement with a major problem – dragging British politics to the right.”
Let us leave aside the claim that UKIP specialises in ‘anti-Muslim’ campaigning. This will come as news to the Bangladeshi organisers of the Ipswich ‘Multi-cultural festival’ at the end of August this year, who included a full page UKIP advertisement, along with Labour and Tory endorsements, in the day’s programme. It will also be a surprise to anybody reading official UKIP material, which does not single out the topic of Islam, but instead includes it within a blanket condemnation on multi-culturalism – the real reason to be astonished at the Ipswich anomaly.
Andy Jones argues, “UKIP is the main organised expression of the new anti-immigrant racism.” (International Socialism. June 2014. No 114) Nobody can deny that it has gained support for its hostility towards migration – their leaflets warning of a mass Bulgarian and Rumanian invasion are still fresh in people’s minds. Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin point to their ability to “recognise and often moblise public resentments of immigration and ethnic minorities among the white majority” (Page 159 Revolt on the Right. 2014).
Is this part and parcel of a “party of bigots, sexists, Islamophobes and homophobes”? Perhaps. But does this imply that they have won votes as this kind of party? Stand up to UKIP clearly seems to think that “exposing” them as such will eat away at their support. Others consider that this is part of their appeal.
Ford and Godwin state that UKIP’s “electoral base is old, male, working class, white and less educated, much like the BNP’s (Ibid). Their analysis of the attitudes within the group they identify would tend to support the view that many of UKIP’s less attractive and prejudices attitudes have an echo within their constituency. Others note that the Stand up to UKIP list of bigoted opinions, slightly more politely expressed, is shared with middle class and upper class voters, the readership of the Daily Mail, Telegraph, and the Times. That UKIP voters are by no means largely working class. (2)
In the publicity for the 27th demonstration at UKIP’s conference it’s stated, “UKIP likes to say it is the “people’s army” in opposition to the political elite in the mainstream parties. But it is a racist party that blames migrant workers for the problems in society it is acting as a shield for the bankers who are really responsible for the economic crisis.”
Is shouting “racist party” outside the UKIP meeting going to change anybody’s opinions? I say shouting, but screaming ‘racist’ is the likely prospect. The involvement of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) signals the direction the protest is taking. This Sealed-Knot re-enactment of the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) demonstrations of yesteryear is a dead-end. The chorus, conducted by the Socialist Workers Party (Stand up’s main initiator) is not going to win over anybody outside their ranks.
Revealing the role of UKIP as “shield for the bankers” is as unlikely undermine their support as “unmasking” them as an unsavoury load of old racists. The competition created in the labour market by migration is – on at least some evidence deliberately encouraged by employers – is the material basis on which people ‘blame’ foreigners for low wages.
A trade union approach is to set a standard, the Living Wage, and high social benefits and work protection for all. Only unions are capable of grappling with these problems directly, bringing the actual and potential UKIP voters together with migrants on the basis of common interests. The left needs to focus on campaigns by the TUC and its affiliates, to prevent the bosses from setting one group against another. It is the European Union which should create the conditions for continent-wide higher wages and social benefits, a strategy of upgrading standards. Any form of sovereigntist politics, from UKIP, the SNP (which advocates lower corporation tax in Scotland) to the Conservative Party’s own Eurosceptic policies (the most direct threat), is an attack on this internationalist approach.
After Douglas Carswell’s resignation from the Tory party and decision to stand for UKIP in Clacton on the 9th of October the party is rarely out of the headline. Polls gives Carswell a wide lead. The group now has 39,143 members. The left has to think, deeply and seriously, without yelling, about how to deal with UKIP’s appeal.
UKIP’s biggest weakness is not that it is a party with an exceptionally high membership of obsessives, xenophobes and oddballs. Having set out on a ‘populist’ path, that is, with the call for the British to rise up against the Brussels elite, its focus anti-European policies cut if off from the large numbers of people who (correctly) identify the ‘elite’ with a domestic Establishment. Many in these circles, including those who are virulently opposed to ‘Brussels’, are attracted, with a degree of ‘cultural cringe’ to the United States. They are prepared to cooperate with Washington and Wall Street in enterprises like TIIP, which open the way to an even greater extension of free-market power.
Farage’s organisation does not combine their prejudices with a degree of ‘social’ demands (protecting ‘the British worker’ ‘our NHS’). It opts for hard-line free-market policies. Continental populists, by contrast, are often opposed to ‘globalisation’ and ‘neo-liberalism’. Some European ‘populist’ parties, like the French Front National, have even tried to influence trade unions (3). This may reflect their middle class base, although the French FN equally benefits from electoral backing in middle class and wealthy areas (the traditional fiefs of the right and extreme-right in cities like Paris).
Yet UKIP’s electoral success (27.5% of the vote in the European elections) has had exactly the same effect: a constant drag towards the right, hauling political players towards its brand of patriotism.
That they are braggarts, demagogues, that their xenophobic policies (directed against other Europeans) have racial overtones (against any ‘foreigners’ – that is, including British citizens, ethnic minorities), is important. This should be brought out and attacked.
But the only way Farage’s party will be sent back to the margins is by facing up to the issue of Sovereignty. To Stand up to UKIP is to stand up for the European Union, to engage in the transformation of its structures and to build a European Social Republic.
Note: for a real anti-racist campaigning group see Hope not Hate which has covered everyday racism, UKIP, the BNP and other UK far-right groups, including Islamists.
(1) The European Rescue of the Nation State (1999) by the late Alan Milward.
(2) “The data on which Ford and Goodwin base their analysis of Ukip voters consists, as they acknowledge, of people who intend to vote Ukip, rather than those who have. On the occasions when Ukip’s vote increases dramatically (such as in European elections) their new or temporary voters are more likely to be middle-class, financially secure and from Conservative backgrounds. And, while Ukip did indeed attract more former Labour voters during the later New Labour years, they have won a substantially higher proportion of Tory voters since the coalition came to power.
So there might be another explanation for the high Ukip vote in Labour areas. As the BBC’s political research editor, David Cowling, points out, in Labour’s safest seat in the country at the 2010 election, 28% of voters still supported other parties. This is not because Liverpool Walton is peppered with enclaves of bankers and stockbrokers; it’s because a substantial section of the working class has always voted for parties other than Labour and now that vote is going to Ukip. Ford and Goodwin argue that Ukip’s success has reduced the swing to Labour among old, poor and male voters. But that’s different from saying that Ukip is eating into the existing Labour vote, as it clearly is into the Conservatives’.” David Edgar.
(2) See the collection of articles in Nouveau Visages des Extrêmes Droites. Manière de Voir. Le Monde Diplomatique. 134. Avril Mai 2014.
Update: SWP Party Notes,
Stand Up to Ukip: Doncaster 27 September
Ukip look odds on to win their first MP in the Clacton by-election on 9 October following the defection of Douglas Carswell to Ukip from the Tories.
Nigel Farage hopes to exploit the tensions inside the Tory party together with rising Islamaphobia to increase Ukip’s influence. This will drag politics further to the right, further boosting racist scapegoating.
The demonstration outside Ukip’s conference in Doncaster on Saturday 27 September is a key step in developing campaign against Ukip.
Every branch needs to think about transport to Doncaster. Approach trade unions for sponsorship and to publicise the demo and we should produce tickets to sell. (a template is attached). We should leaflet FE colleges and universities as they return. Using the Stand up to Ukip statement, which has an impressive list of ‘big’ names on it around work and with people we know locally is a good way to talk to people about the importance of coming to Doncaster and showing that there is organised opposition to Ukip.
More transport has been put on over the last week – including from Huddesfield, Chesterfield, Nottingham, West Midlands, Newcastle, Derby. For the full list go to standuptoukip.org
There are SUTU public meetings tonight in Manchester and Cambridge.
To order colour 2-sided A5 leaflets advertising the demo in Doncaster, firstname.lastname@example.org – 1,000 cost £15.