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UKIP’s turn to the workers

UKIP posterI don’t love UKIP. I don’t love to hate UKIP. I simply loathe them, despise them. UKIP is the Daily Mail in party form, a chamber pot spilling over with effluvia and poison. From climate change denialism to sexism, from ‘are-you-thinking-what-we’re-thinking’ wink-wink racism to stupid-minded selfishness, it is the new home for everything that is vile, everything that is anti-human about our politics.

Small wonder they inspire so much disgust. At the moment volunteers are handing out food parcels to the needy on a scale not seen since the 1930s, UKIP appear hell bent on re-staging the foulest politics of the period. Like the demagogues that have come before Farage, be they populist or fascist, theirs is a politics of dividing and ruling, of hatred and fear. The solution to the problems facing Britain is not banding together to face them collectively, but to point fingers, to blame anyone who comes to this country in search of a better life for its ills.

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 limits 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.

This article first appeared at All That Is Solid… (the blog previously known as A Very Public Sociologist)


  1. David Ellis says:

    How many of those 26 million are UK unemployed. Perhaps they should be deported.

    There is only one response to the Little Englanders on the one side and the globalizing neo-liberals on the other and that is for a regime of full-employment by which all school and college leavers and unemployed workers are bought into the workforce to share in the available productive work on the minimum of a trade union living wage. At the same time the European labour movements should be seeking to renegotiate the founding treaties of the EU in accordance with socialist principles rather than the neo-liberal ones that are currently ripping it apart such as an EU-wide living wage and EU-wide full employment.

  2. Rod says:

    It was bound to happen.

    The Labour Party has dumped the unions and is institutionally biased against ordinary people – hence the preponderance of Progress zombies in the PLP.

    As the Labour Party has opted to turned its back on us we may as well turn our backs on the Labour Party.

    Where to turn? Well there’s only one party speaking out against the undemocratic EU and opposing the EU’s dangerously aggressive expansionism.

    So there isn’t really much of a choice.

  3. swatantra says:

    Its an excellent article. Anyone reading it would question the mental state of anyone wanting to vote UKIP. The ‘Tory Working Class’ voter has always been seen with derision, and rightly so, because they display all the characteristics of selfish aquisitiveness, ‘I’m all right Jack’ of the Ealing comedies.

  4. James Martin says:

    It’s easy to tut tut UKIP. The problem is that I’ve got plenty of ‘non political’ friends who have voted for them and are likely to do so again. These are not far-right activists, nutters or racists, but pretty normal working class people who don’t naturally identify with Labour anymore. And I suspect that if people were to be honest, and assuming they have friends outside of political networks (I realise some of you probably don’t, sadly), they would say much the same.

    The issue of the EU is far more ‘real’ to many than the intelligentsia often believes. People instinctively recognise the EU for the dangerous undemocratic, expansionist body that it is. This of course is often confused with a dual belief that the EU is about protecting the banks and the rich, while at the same time identifying it with protection for poor immigrants. However, the failure to lead on this, and the reason why the door is open so widely for UKIP, is largely down to the rotten pro-EU policies of our own Party.

  5. David Ellis says:

    Just as New Labour has become a pale imitation of the Tory Party, NO2EU is a very pale imitation of UKIP. In both cases if they are so inclined workers will say better the real thing than a watered down half-arsed version.

    But the point of socialists is to put forward not piss poor versions of bourgeois policy dressed up in Marxist verbiage but a programme that expresses the objective interests of the working class. As far as the working class is concerned that interest is expressed neither by Little England isolationism whether it comes in right wing garb or as left wing garbage or by neo-liberal free market sell everything cosmpolitan globalisation.

    No, the working class has an economic and existential interest in the unity of Europe even whilst opposing the neo-liberal principles on which the current Union is built on. The policy that properly expresses this is, as I said above, for the renegotiation by the European labour movements of the founding treaties of the EU in accordance with socialist principles such as EU-wide living wage and EU-wide full-employment.

  6. John Reid says:

    Swantantra, is wanting too be “alright” as you put it, at the expense of those who don’t fall into the working class, IE those who suffered poverty and fell into not even being scene part of society ,such as the homeless, and if hate too say it, the “underclass”, selfish?

    If anyone who was working class, and thought about voting Tory, but felt “I’ll vote labour, they’ll tax me and ,yes the rich more but they’ll spend more on propping up ailing industries, at the expense of ,more efficient ways, of producing energy or metals, or ships and vehicles, I’ll vote for spending on social housing for those who are earning enough too decide whether they want ,certain refurbishments to their homes, as they’re rich enough to own their homes, rather than having welfare funded houses, Plus if we do this inflation, interest rates will go through the roof, and it’ll cause us financially as a Country to be wasting money subsidising wages, as tor all the pay rises unions get us inflation will, so undermine them it wouldn’t matter”

    If that makes working class Tories selfish, it shows blindness, of course the Working class Tory of the 50’s put in a Tory govt that built more council homes than ever, and Labour in 1959 were the ones who lost, suggesting that we let those renting, buy their homes.

  7. John Reid says:

    Rod, OK there arerobably more right wing labour back benchers now, who saw the unions as away of funding the party, wht nothing in return, but as far a I know very few area ogress unles you inc
    Dueeople Like a Steve Reed, Davind Lammy,Diane Boot, Chuka ,or David Lammy writing articles for that magazine, as for the party turning it’s back on the members other than them being foot soldiers, yes that because financially the party ,burns money, and isn’t very good at concentrating its money on fighting elections,,not because it takes us for granted.because the PLP,is more interested,in trying to appeal the Mail,being a poor copy of the Tories, that may spins like the PLP are put of touch,by not trying to get us involved, in policies,as the PLP,is put of touch with grass root members,but because,they are too interested in the career ladder, as unless.they keep their seats.there not going to be in a position to financially get behind us to help with campaigning, as , there won’t be A PLP to have a team that need us and need money to exist.

    1. Rod says:

      Sorry John, you’ve lost me with that.

      1. Robert says:

        Few to many Gins by the look of it…

  8. Chris says:

    UKIP may be right wing bastards, but they’re not sexist.

    Almost no one is in modern Britain.

  9. Robert says:

    The issue is we should have a vote on the EU we have never had one.

    I will be voting UKIP at the next election unless labour comes out and explains to me what the policies will be. No caps no band wagons policies especially on welfare .

    The last few months have been interesting listening to Labour blame the Tories over ATOS trying to state they did not make ATOS like this it was the Tories.

    Which is rubbish, I also want to know what labour are going to do to the Public sector it’s one thing to say it will become local and the people will have a say, the simple fact labour today are talking about out sourcing and ensuring the best service for the money, I myself would not want any out souring that’s for sure I want good public services which are done by the state not more ATOS type companies or A4e or the rest of the cowboys. Seem labour are into turning over our public sector into private sector, did they learn sod all .

    Labour has to do a lot of explaining and especially if out sourcing is so great will this include the NHS which as we all know seemed to be a target for labour.

    I will be voting UKIP because right now I cannot for the life of me vote labour unless they explain to me why I should with policies.

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