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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 have 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 the 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’etrecollapses. 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?

5 Comments

  1. Rod says:

    “rebuild political trust”?

    That’s a great ambition. Can’t see how the undemocratic and politically bankrupt Progress/Labour Party can be of any use though.

  2. Mark1957 says:

    It is very unlikely that they will “Top the European polls”. Labour look set to do that.

    They are also unlikely to get many, if any, seats in the General election in 2015.

    UKIP is a protest party, mostly for the disaffected right. It will likely go back to being the fourth party behind the LibDems and remain small for most of their existence…

  3. swatantra says:

    UKIP wil be dead as a dodo in 2015.

  4. Gerry says:

    Excellent analysis, Phil – getting right to the core of UKIP’s anti-politics appeal, which the Lib Dems used to have to great effect (before, that is, the reality of power revealed Clegg/Alexander/Laws and co as yet another grubby neo-Thatcherite entity!)

    It is depressing, though, that right wing/racist and neoThatcherite parties always seem to pick up the “anti-politics” or “anti-establishment” vote…but the values and outlook of that middle-aged/elderly Daily Mail working/middle class core constituency you describe does explain a lot.

    Where is our UKIP of the Left, or at least a populist and popular socialist/radical movement that can get at least 10% of the vote?

  5. John reid says:

    Ukip have a few fruit cakes. So. Do all parties, they may say they were against Iraw,ID cards, pro legalising prostitution, not in of or of censorship or porn and aren’t hard on Drugs, but their support comes mainly from those who left e right of the Tories,although Oeter a Shores widow and former Labour MP Robert Kilroy Silk were in their rank, Niki Sincliar and 3 ex Lib Dems have been in their team too, regarding the EU referndum in Cameron wins and the possiblilty that the ac try would vote to stay in,meaning they’d be finished, I don’t see why, If I was to draw the comparison with the SDP, it wasn’t until Labour had accepted almost all the Tory privatisation plans and the un in laws that , they disappeared, and Ukip have come out of a group of Tories who are against gay marriage,multiculturalism etc, but the idea that the Ukip wing of politics could join the Tories is laughable as they don’t even Like Boris, of course labour could win the election ,and the pressure will be on for a referndum too, and if Labour do win are seen the pro EU party and then become very unpopular ,as parties do mid term, then the re dum would be seen more as a comment on a future Labour gov’ts unpopularity ,than staying in the EU

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