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UKIP after Steven Woolfe

It’s been a torrid time for UKIP since the referendum in June. And not in a good way. On no less than three occasions, the cause of the purple party’s discomforts have, ostensibly, centered upon the person of Steven Woolfe. There was the farce of the leadership campaign where, readers will recall, Woolfe demonstrated his lightning fast organising skills by submitting his candidate’s application some 17 minutes late. Compounding this most rookie of errors were revelations he’d let his membership lapse. Oh, and that he’d forgotten to declare an ancient drink driving conviction while standing for the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections in Greater Manchester, leaving him open to charges of electoral fraud. Then, at the start of the month, we were entertained by the fracas between Woolfe and the aptly named Mike Hookem MEP. And now, there’s this.

In quitting UKIP “with immediate effect”, Woolfe is unsparing with his criticisms. There are “huge negative camps” threatening the party with “a death spiral”, and members saying “horrific” things to each other. Standard for UKIP, I’d have thought. He also concludes that the party has next to no future without Nigel Farage as he’s the only figure capable of keeping a lid on things. True, but even then, UKIP was plagued with infighting, splits, briefing and counter briefings, and a disproportionate number of its wastrel MEPs hauled before the courts. And there’s also the suggestion the party’s on the hook for 800 grand, minus a willing sugar daddy to make the shortfall good.

This latest round in UKIP’s decline is something first forecast on this blog after the 2015 general election. Feeding off the historic anti-Labour sections of the working class, the lumpens, the petit bourgeoisie, and retirees, UKIP’s core, if it can be called that, was always highly volatile. A coalition built around europhobia and anti-immigrant bigotry can glue such a bloc together for a time. The adhesive can be strengthened by the application of a charismatic man-of-the-people type, and for a while, it worked. While it was on the up, it appeared as if these divisions didn’t matter. UKIP have shrugged off dodgy MEPs and egos as it climbed the polls, won the European elections, nicked two MPs off the Tories, netted councillors, and made the political weather. But after the general election, and post the EU referendum, the party’s tendency to historic decline has accelerated. With Theresa May cornering the let’s-be-beastly-to-foreigners market, UKIP is not about to repeat the glories. With or without Farage.

Which is why, ultimately, Woolfe has thrown the towel in. He deserves some credit for speaking candidly to the BBC about his injuries, but one thing he isn’t is stupid. Apart from his politics, Woolfe does seem personable and usually acquits himself well on the television. Yet he hasn’t got what it takes to lead UKIP’s gaggle of silly, stupid, racist geese. In his presentation and personality there is nothing setting him apart from any other smooth, media trained mainstream politician. Qualities that might endear him to a nice Conservative Association somewhere, sometime, but definitely not what a so-called people’s army demands. They need a Farage or, ugh, a Kilroy.

The departure of Woolfe epitomises the crisis, the cracking up of UKIP. The party is dying because it cannot replace itself. there just aren’t sufficient numbers of younger activists and, crucially, voters willing to give the party time of day. Small wonder it can manage a succession properly. Looking among the personages and non-personalities of the party’s leading cadre, there is not one among them capable of filling Farage’s shoes. And in the politics after the referendum, it lacks purpose beyond an occasional council by-election annoyance. Woolfe’s departure might be enough to save his career from the knackers yard of politics. It looks increasingly like the same can’t be said for his erstwhile party.

21 Comments

  1. John Penney says:

    Rather a complacent, unanalytical article, Phil. I think we on the Left are very premature in writing off the “UKIP phenomum” , despite the ,to be welcomed ,obvious meltdown of the current UKIP party.

    Across Europe populist parties of the Far Right are growing strongly, as a political mirror image of the recent “Left Surge” which produced Syriza, Podemos, Die Linke, and the “Corbyn Insurgency” in the Labour party. They have been building their strength on the lack of hope for the future arising both long term deindustrialisation has meant for major sectors of the ,often previously Left voting working classes, the Austerity aftermath of the 2008 Crash, and hostility to the unprecedented pace of waves of new migration over the last 20 years in particular.

    Some of the populist Right parties growing from this social dislocation and resulting dissatisfaction with the neoliberal status quo have been distinctly fascist (in Hungary and Greece for instance), but most , even if fascist in origin, like the, now hugely electorally successful French National Front, have moderated their political language , to offer an apparently “leftish” anti capitalist, “anti globalisation” rhetoric, alongside rabid anti immigrant minority policies.

    UKIP was always a peculiar political formation for a long term populist party of the radical Right, in that it is packed out with saloon bar Tories at all levels of its organisation leadership . Part of its social base was always disgruntled Tories obsessed with getting out of the EU and the rising levels of immigration. Farage and most of his fellow leadership group really only ever wanted to push the Tory Party Rightwards, and get it to implement a EU Referendum. For most of this member and voter cohort it’s “job done “.

    In overall policy terms UKIP has nothing , other than very Right Wing Tory policies to offer. UKIP has toyed with opposition to TTIP and with supporting the NHS – but it’s heart was never in it. Beyond anti immigrant xenophobia and petty anti EU nationalism, for UKIP the distinctive populist policy cupboard is bare !”

    So what , beyond this Right Tory politics does UKIP have to offer the masses of white working class voters across the Midlands and North East, and elsewhere in the deindustrialised, hope-lacking regions of the UK, that will fill the political void consequent upon the actual and imminent collapse, of electoral support for Labour in these areas ? Very little . Yet there is a yawning political gap waiting for a seriously pseudo leftish, nationalistic, anti migrant, party of the radical populist Right. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s the BNP was growing strongly across the UK on precisely this political menu. Its growth was stopped because of, its all too obvious fascist roots, its leadership’s infighting and corruption, the physical and political opposition it met from the Left and BME communities, and because the rise of UKIP gave disgruntled voters an easier ” Right populist protest vote” vehicle.

    The political space for a faux Left rhetoric spouting radical right populist party is still there, in England at least (in Scotland the nationalist faux Leftism of the SNP has filled this space – for now).

    Labour’s failure to tackle the issue of neoliberalism’s unlimited migration, particularly in relation to unlimited labour supply, via a principled offer of a comprehensive economic plan which will manage labour supply, and housing supply , and educational support, to ensure UK residents primarily benefit from future labour supply needs, and the almost total collaboration of Labour Councils with the Austerity Agenda, accentuates the political void beyond the now widely discredited mainstream parties. Unless a “Corbynite” radical Left Labour Party can advance beyond liberal platitudes to construct a credible radical Left “policy bundle” offer to the White working class, and also significant sections of the increasingly “proletarianised” lower middle classes, what comes after the current iteration of UKIP, will be a much more dangerous political formation on the radical populist Far Right than the saloon bar Right Tories of UKIP ever represented.

    1. Peter Rowlands says:

      An excellent analysis by John Penney with which I fully concur, except regarding council opposition to cuts which is not now realistic as JC and JM have recognised, although we shouldn’t be ruling on it.

    2. Imran Khan says:

      I see that you are using the phrase ” white working class” something that even five years ago would have got you denounced as a fascist. Labour both in terms of its local and Parliamentary representation and membership have largely not only abandoned this group but actually seem to despise them.

      They are paying a price for this but don’t seem to care. It would be interesting to see what proportion of the four million votes UKIP gained at the last general election come from this group but at least a half I would think. All the UKIP votes are up for grabs if the party disintegrates and the bulk will go to the Tories.

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        I really don’t like seeing the term ‘white working class’ being used.

        Can we on the left please not use this expression?

        Just say “working class”.

        Workers are all colours and shades of colour. We as socialists need to be for uniting the working class as a powerful movement for justice in the workplace and in society.

        That means workers regardless of the colour of their skin.

        Not the ‘white’ working class, all workers.

        1. John Penney says:

          Karl, you will be very, very, upset then that I really don’t care that you “don’t like seeing the term ‘white working class’ being used.” Did you even read the article and comments before trying to deny the existence of a quite distinct white working class , to whom we, as socialists, have to positively relate, or the Right will scoop them up in droves.?

          This is a forum for serious discussion of contemporary class and social issues, in this case about that opportunist , Right populist ,political vehicle for the wide-ranging disgruntlement and fears of sections of the White working class (and the “Poujadist” lower middle class Tory) disgruntlement, UKIP, not a platform for the display of ones unwillingness to confront reality.

          Are you seriously denying that there is a significant category of voters ,in England in particular, who are both “working class” , in fact “lower income”, generally low skilled or unskilled, or possessing skills now no longer needed in our deindustrialised economy, living particularly in relatively socially deprived areas of the North East, Midlands and South Yorkshire, who are also accurately describable as “white” (as a shorthand for a range of objective and subjective , external and self identifying, characteristics) ?

          Are you also wanting to deny, or more accurately ignore, that a sizeable cohort of this section of UK-born citizenry are increasingly alienated from their traditional political support of the Labour Party, and have in increasing numbers been attracted to parties of the Radical Far Right (the BNP in the 1990’s) and more recently UKIP ? A dangerous phenomenum across Europe, as just this “left behind, social grouping are attracted to the siren simplistic racist, nationalistic, AND often distinctly anti capitalist rhetoric, of the populist Far Right parties.

          You can flaunt your “right on” Far Left language taboos as much as you want. But the real task of the Left is not to ignore social and class realities, but to analyse them, and try to develop radical Left programmes which can meet the economic and social requirements of this large and dangerously disaffected White working class grouping , but still ensure the survival of a tolerant multi-ethnic, society.

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            What about a UK-born black worker, whose parents were also both UK born?

            That person is a member of the working class every bit as much as someone with a lighter skin.

            The term “white working class” is racist. Please don’t use it.

          2. John Penney says:

            Are you completely devoid of any ability to understand political discussion all, Karl ? Or just interested in flaunting an unthinking , Dave Spartesque , knee jerk “Right On-ness ” ?

            In the specific context of this particular discussion – ie, of UKIP, and the wider appeal of the populist Far Right, to a particular sub-set of the various European working classes , Black, or Asian, working class citizens are not likely to have voted in any large numbers for UKIP (though a few, amazingly have indeed done so ), and none at all can be expected to be a potential voting base for a more dangerous radical “anti-capitalist” faking Right populist party of the French National Front type.

            The term “White working class” is not therefore in this particular analytical context, in the least bit “racist” !

            Try to read and understand the article and the context and meaning of the responding posts, Karl. You are making a complete fool of yourself.

          3. C MacMackin says:

            In an attempt to avert the ensuing bun-fight, it seems to me that the question here is whether white members of the working class have a qualitatively different experience in the contemporary economy than non-white members. As I try to answer this, keep in mind that, by upbringing, I am an upper-middle class Canadian and am currently living in a bubble in Oxford.

            John has accurately described the experience for many workers in the regions of this country most strongly hit by deindustrialisation. I think it would be fair to assume that these people would be mostly white, as immigrants would be unlikely to settle in areas where there are few good jobs. Non-white workers, settling in the cities (particularly the southeast) where the service-sector provides (not very good) jobs, thus have a different experience. However, the same would go for white workers in the southeast. It seems to me that the fundamental divide is a geographical, not a racial, one.

            Of course, “white working class” does have cultural associations (some of which may include identification with a more traditional, less multicultural, concept of Britishness) as well. These do seem to be more strongly associated with the working class in the deindustrialised regions than the more cosmopolitan working class of the southeast.

            Given all of this, I don’t think “white working class” is a particularly useful descriptor, as it is only describing the unique experience of a subset of white workers. With this in mind, using it could have the (for those of us on here, no doubt unintended) consequence of neglecting non-white workers. As such, I’d say it’s probably not a term which we should make a habit of using.

            I’ll be happy to hear counterarguments to my line of thinking here.

          4. Karl Stewart says:

            Response to John Penney at 4.58pm:

            All I’m doing here is politely asking you not to use a racist term John, that’s all.

            It’s a great shame this has sent you into full-on ‘political-correctness-gawn-mad’ apoplexy, but all I’m saying is please don’t use the language and terminology of the nazis.

          5. Karl Stewart says:

            Response to CMac at 5.01:

            No ‘bun fight’ here my friend, just an anti-racist objecting to racism.

          6. John Penney says:

            You are quite intellectually incapable of replying to any of my responses aren’t you Karl ?

            Try to actually take part in the discussion on the rise , and occasional fall, of populist Right parties like UKIP, Karl. You are entirely unable to do so, and of course couldn’t do so without recognising the existence and role of the problem of mass white (indigenous, semi-skilled, poorer, less educationally qualified, living in areas of industrial decline and deprivation) working class rejection of their traditional voting allegiances, but prefer to hide the fact that you have nothing to say behind your ludicrous , “5th form radical”, nonsense that the term “white working class” is automatically “racist”.

            No discussion on the current and potential support base for Right populist parties can ignore the reality of the disaffection of the sizeable specifically indigenous white subsection of the broader UK working class from its traditional Labour (or in some cases working class Tory) voting behaviour, and its transfer to a populist Right Party – UKIP, or other populist parties of the Far Right across Europe.

            It is a serious, politically dangerous, mass phenomenum. Far too serious for analysis and discussion to be distracted by your nonsensical , baseless, claim that to use the term “white “in this context is “racist”. It isn’t – and grow up.

          7. Karl Stewart says:

            Response to John Penney at 8.01pm:

            John, there is a working class. There is not a homogeonous ‘white’ working class.

            There are working-class people with all shades of skin tone, who live on the same housing estates, work at the same workplaces, shop at the same shops, send their children to the same schools etc.

            The racist right seek to sow hatred and division by foccussing on the differences in the shades of their skin colour, or their country of origin, or their region of origin.

            Socialists seek to build unity by focussing on the struggles working-class people have in common.

            Your use of the racist term ‘white working class’, your disturbingly vehement defence of the use of that term, and your advocacy of a specific political strategy which is tailored exclusively to working-class people with lighter shades of skin tone is profoundly racist. There’s no other word to adequately describe it.

            There is nothing, nothing at all, that is either remarkable or unprecedented about some working-class people voting for UKIP. There have always been some right-wing orientated working-class people. It’s not good, but it’s not new, or unusual.

            The ‘Ukipper’ is the ‘political-correctness-gawn-mad’ bore that we’ve all encountered, at work, in a pub, on the bus, etc…

            Now UKIP’s finished, these moaners will mostly drift back to the Tories – and frankly, who cares?

            We need to win people for socialist ideas, policies, programmes. Win new people, new voters.

            For that to succeed, we need a bold a radical programme that will enthuse people.

    3. David Pavett says:

      I agree that the article is complacent and has no analytic depth. I think you are right too to say “… there is a yawning political gap waiting for a seriously pseudo leftish, nationalistic, anti migrant, party of the radical populist Right”.

      Discussing UKIP as a “gaggle of silly, stupid, racist geese” is far too self-comforting. I would also question denigrating animal analogies even when applied to right-wing parties. It is the language of tribal politics which identifies others by abuse rather than by using appropriate concepts. One in eight voters supported UKIP in 2015. That is massive and much of it drew from Labour.

      It has often been noted that some of the strongest anti-immigration sentiment came from people living in areas with relatively few immigrants and that those feeling were an expression of a much wider set of social concerns (e.g. about housing, employment, services, run-down environments, inadequate schools …). That’s true and it is why UKIP as an overwhelmingly single-issue party could not tap into the full potential of pseudo-left right-wing populism. But the basis for that populism hasn’t gone away. That, for me, is why Labour’s on-going failure not only to develop clear and convincing policies, but even to get a debate going for that purpose, is so alarming. It doesn’t help either that Labour doesn’t have a policy on immigration, or that Jeremy Corbyn thinks that no policy is required.

      No, I agree with John, it is not time to crow over UKIPs decline or the buffoonery of some of its representatives. Labour in general, and the Labour left in particular, are still far from adequate to the challenge posed by the feelings which have, for the moment, found expression through UKIP.

  2. bill says:

    I very much agree with your analysis John. I think Labour has really only at most two General Elections to satisfy white working class voters that it can improve things for them before it too faces the problems of UKIP.

    UKIP might well implode but what we definitely know is that there is no place for a tory-light ‘ allegedly moderate party.

  3. Imran Khan says:

    Four million votes. Are they a Poujastist phenomena?

    1. Rob Bab says:

      It’s an interesting read on Wiki about Pierre Poujade, after whom the Poujadist movement was named. Timothy Garton Ash invokes his name when describing some of the Brexit voters;
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Poujade

  4. Rob Bab says:

    Here’s Mike Hookum, in his own words, describing what happened during the “handbags at dawn” Hookum/Woolfe scuffle.

  5. James Kemp says:

    >>the almost total collaboration of Labour Councils with the Austerity Agenda

    Sorry Sir but what can they do? No reserves and no money from the Tories so they have to do the Tories bidding! If not they get replaced with a Tory-backed yes members they cannot win if they don’t implement the cuts they are punished and then the vulnerable people they support are in dire straits..

    1. John Penney says:

      That is quite true, James. Only a 1980’s style Labour Council revolt , but this time on a massive scale, against setting a budget within spending limits could really shake up the current central government engineered steady demise of local government services. However , in the 80’s all the “rebel Labour Councils, of Ken Livingstone and Ted Knight, etc, capitulated, and left Liverpool to fight on alone. And Corbyn and Mcdonnell won’t back such a revolt – and no current Labour Council is radical enough to even consider it.

      So only a really radical Labour government is likely to reverse this now, in some places near-terminal local, government collapse.

      Unfortunately, from the perception of the huge numbers of now disaffected Labour voters, this is irrelevant. They just see that it is “their” local Labour councils carrying out the cuts . And of course the well publicised corruption and cronyism endemic in so many Labour Councils (and of course in Tory and Lib Dem ones too) ,doesn’t help the image of local Labour being other than a “party which has deserted the working class”. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t fair overall . What matters is that Labour councils being SEEN as part of the “establishment implementation of Austerity”, leaves a huge political space for a Left-faking rabble rousing , immigrant blaming, party of the radical Populist Right to fill. And fill it they undoubtedly will – unless Labour meets the crisis and working class demands with a serious Left policy platform for local and national regeneration.

  6. Imran Khan says:

    I think what has to be understood here is not the fact that UKIP exists but its underlying support. What it is and where it comes from. The myth circulating on the left, and the further left you go the more intense the myth becomes, is that it is a party of the lower middle and middle classes, the petit bourgeoisie so much explored and written about by Marxists and Marxisants.

    The conventional view from the uber left perspective is that they are used by monopoly capital in times of crisis to divide the working class and to provide the shock troops of the reactionaries that will smash the working class when they rise up to seize state power led by the most class conscious elements of that class now, of course, welded into a revolutionary party guided by, etc, etc. I think you get the picture.

    The reality of course is that what UKIP and to a certain extent the previous and now extinct BNP came to articulate the feelings of a sizable and growing section of the electorate. Issues such as immigration, housing, the lack of accountability by government at the centre and locally, feelings of helplessness and the realisation that decisions which affected their lives were being taken by unelected and very often self appointed EU officials and judges have pushed a section of the the working class and lower middle class, four million of them, to a ramshackle party of the populist right.

    There are only two issues to be discussed here I think. If UKIP collapse then where is its vote going and what is the Labour Party and the left going to do? Indeed what can it do?

    There is a general panic on the left every time UKIP win an election and calls for a more left wing policies in order to ” win back” those formerly Labour voters. This was even the explanation for the loss of the last general election in some quarters!

    There is little likelihood of the UKIP vote returning to Labour in its present state. The natural home for those votes is the Tories and that, if UKIP fractures and becomes rump, is where they will go.

    What can Labour do. In its present state nothing except rail against and abuse those voters which is what seems to happening across the organised left as evidenced in its blogs.

    There is now no chance of Corbyn being removed as leader and no one of any stature to lead the party of he could be. A split is now a definite possibility and the fight is then on for the party name and property. Even some Tories are now talking of an elected dictatorship and a lack of an opposition.

  7. Sam Kelly says:

    UKIP is on a downward spiral because it no longer has a raison d’etre. The same is true of the Labour Party. Shame – they’re both home to some interesting characters.

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