UKIP’s populism could present a greater threat to the left than the right

If I feel a sense of déjà vu as I watch UKIP’s rise today, just imagine the view from Crosby’s chair at Conservative Party HQ. David Cameron’s election strategist hasn't just seen this film before - he's already written the script.

Tim Dixon is political director at New York-based

With all the disorder in Conservative ranks, it’s tempting for progressives to see UKIP as David Cameron’s worst nightmare. Yet UKIP’s ultimate legacy could be to change the politics of immigration and national identity, weakening one of Britain’s greatest strengths and eroding the progressive vote.

We won’t know the real damage UKIP inflicts, or against whom, until the smoke clears – but one recent historic parallel underscores how right-wing populists present a greater long-term threat to the left than the right.

Parallels with Australia

Fifteen years ago in Australia, a similar populist insurgency pulled the rug out from under the established parties, breaking records with 23 per cent of the vote in a Queensland state election. Spectators of the UKIP phenomenon will see many parallels, starting with the same 23 per cent vote this month.

This party – somewhat disconcertingly for today’s British politics, called ‘One Nation’ – energised its supporters with grave warnings about open-door immigration, the betrayal of national economic interests and the self-serving behaviour of the political class. Its leader, a former fish-and-chip-shop owner named Pauline Hanson, spoke in the common sense nostrums of mainstream voters.

And just like Nigel Farage, wherever Hanson went, she was welcomed by voters expressing their relief that at last someone was ‘saying what the rest of us have all been thinking’.

Within a couple of years One Nation went off the rails. Like Farage, Pauline Hanson had been a powerfully disruptive force, who brought colour and movement back to politics. She even taped a video message to be released in the event of her assassination, in which she stared down the barrel of the camera to announce, “Fellow Australians, if you are seeing me now, it means I have been murdered”.

However the One Nation members who won elections were unready for public office. Their ranks were filled with just a few too many crackpots, opportunists and cranky malcontents.

Farage knows the risks and wants to prevent UKIP flaming out as One Nation did. It won’t be easy. Populist parties lack political polish. At first that’s an invigorating change from the mind-numbing soundbites of professional politicians. But the moment UKIP’s inexperience morphs into public displays of incompetence or indiscipline from its members – fiddling expenses, getting uppity or turning on each other – public support could collapse.

Long-lasting influence

While pop-up populists may be put back in their box, they can exercise influence long after they have disappeared. Power is derived from changing the debate as much as by winning seats.

In Australia we learnt the hard way. For a time, One Nation boosted Labor’s electoral prospects. As mostly conservative votes bled to One Nation, Labor first won office in Queensland and then won a majority of votes in the national election in 1998. Both were Labor’s first election from opposition, following successive terms of government.

Maybe UKIP will have a similar effect on British politics, splitting the right-of-centre vote and returning Labour to office. Certainly, it has destabilised the Tories and driven down the Conservative vote.

But UKIP’s legacy might be quite different. Australian conservatives also stumbled at first in the face of the populist insurgency.

But over time, that changed. Conservatives got smarter. First One Nation shifted the political debate to the right, bringing into the mainstream views on immigration, Indigenous affairs and asylum seekers that had previously only simmered on the political fringes. Then conservative prime minister John Howard followed, embracing many of those once-fringe views with a relish that often dismayed his own party’s moderates.

This was the legacy of Australia’s populist insurgency: a new politics of identity, race and asylum seekers. It delivered some short-term gains for Labor, but ultimately it cost Labor heavily. Conservatives learned from One Nation how to tap into a set of concerns shared by many Labor voters.

Labor’s response was confused and seemed disconnected from voters’ concerns. A swathe of blue collar voters defected to conservatives and stayed there.

Maybe UKIP’s rise may be just another example of the ‘flash politics’ of a news cycle obsessed with novelty and surprise. Maybe. But more dangerously, UKIP might break-up Britain’s broad consensus on immigration and Europe. That is dangerous, both to Britain and to Labour. It demands a front-footed response, and one that engages people while shifting the frame of the debate, as reports from organisations like British Future and Hope Not Hate have argued in recent years.

It won’t be easy. It may be crucial.

Country to country parallels in politics only extend so far, of course, and the Tory madness on Europe often feels like it’s from another planet. But there’s one last correlation. The campaign director for Australia’s conservatives during the whole period of One Nation was Lynton Crosby. If I feel a sense of déjà vu as I watch UKIP’s rise today, just imagine the view from Crosby’s chair at Conservative Party HQ. David Cameron’s election strategist hasn’t just seen this film before – he’s already written the script.

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29 Responses to “UKIP’s populism could present a greater threat to the left than the right”

  1. OldLb

    The problem is that you’ve screwed the working class in multiple ways. Low wages by unfettered migration. With the standard left wing biggotry that migrants are better then British, so we have to get them in. Included in this are the nutcases like Quattada.

    That’s screwed them over housing.

    Since you’ve also screwed a median wage earner out of 475,000 via the state pension system, its even more severe.


    But more dangerously, UKIP might break-up Britain’s broad consensus on immigration and Europe


    This shows that you are deluded. There is a broad consensus, and its time to get out of Europe, rightly or wrongly, and that its time to cap migration.

    Where you should be leading is that migration of low skilled migrants needs to be curtailed. You wont’. You want more and more to come here, and consume re

  2. Lady Magdalene

    “But more dangerously, UKIP might break-up Britain’s broad consensus on immigration and Europe”
    And there we have a clear admission that LiblabCON operate to deny the British people any real say over the future direction and governance of their country.
    There are only two sides in British* politics: LibLabCON v UKIP.
    *SNP, Plaid Cymru etc are parties of the celtic regions.

  3. Jon Danzig

    Well, let me add my contributions to the debate – two articles just published:

    Brits should recognise the value of being ‘citizens of Europe’ –

    What Nigel Farage told UK expats in Spain –

  4. Marcus Vinicius

    This is one of the most disgracefully undemocratic articles I think I’ve ever read on this website.

    ‘UKIP might break-up Britain’s broad consensus on immigration and Europe.’
    This is known as democracy. Clearly it has not place in the LibLabConsensus. To quote Mr. Farage himself, “Just who the hell do you people think you are?”

  5. mike cobley

    Well, going by yr logic, British expats who have settled abroad but still have UK citizenship should be forced to return to the Uk – after all, arent they taking jobs away from French, or Spanish or whoever, and using up the resources in other countries? C’mon, fairs fair, eh?

  6. voteukiporwearefinished

    Yes, see Mandelson on the BBC yesterday. To paraphrase: ” we can’t have a referendum on Europe because the outcome is unpredictable”.

  7. paulusdebierkabouter

    “going by yr logic, British expats who have settled abroad but still have UK citizenship should be forced to return to the Uk”

    I’m a Ukipper living (by choice) in Brussels. I can assure of our belief that every country should have the right to decide its own immigration policy.


    FARAGE IS THE NEW HITLER, more details at

  9. paulusdebierkabouter

    “Maybe. But more dangerously, UKIP might break-up Britain’s broad consensus on immigration and Europe.”

    If the political class and the commentariat have one “broad consensus”, and the people have another, then it’s your lot who need to change.

    That you can speak disparagingly of “the politics of … national identity” tells us a lot. Identifying with the nation (a.k.a. the demos) is crucial for democracy. There needs to be a large group of people who can outvote you without it feeling like tyranny and whose problems your money can be spent on without it feeling like theft. That group of people can’t be summoned into existence by your whim. A shared identity can be built on some combination in some degree of: shared race, shared religion, a common language, common values, common aspirations, shared history or a common enemy. Neither you nor I want race to be the determining factor in that shared identity, but if successive governments behave as if any of those factors can be changed too quickly for the collective to digest the changes, then the consequences will be, to put it no more strongly, disagreeable.

  10. OldLb

    Not quite.

    It’s down to that country what they do. Migration is optional bar the small numbers of people granted asylum in the UK.

    So if the French decide, we don’t want any Brits, its their choice. If they decide that they will only accept Brits who pay more than the average government spend, its their choice.

    Now if they say no Brits, they lose. If they say, just those who pay their way, they win.

    Same as the UK with the French, the Poles, ….

  11. OldLb

    Quite right.

    The question is then, what’s the right policy?

    1. Longer times to get citizenship. 25 years strikes me as right.

    2. if you want to come here, you have to pay more tax than the average government spend, per person, per migrant.
    3. You have to pay that up front, or have a firm guarantee it, or take out an insurance bond.
    4. Assessed at the end of the year by the tax form. Above, a thank you. [Would be nice for the rest of us], or you have to top up, or leave within 3 months.

    That uses the exist system, the tax system to administer it. It means only those beneficial to the UK come and stay. Its clear and simple and removes lots of causes of problems. The poorer get housing, the poorer get jobs. There are less stresses on schools and hospitals. If you earn the sums of money involved, you are less likely to commit crimes. You will be better educated. …

    It’s also non racist. There is no racism involved.

  12. OldLb

    Quite. They just want to dictate. Hence there need for referenda.

    When too will politicians realise that referenda are for the difficult questions.

    e.g Gay marriage. Let the public vote and decide, then you have a real debate with a clear answer

  13. Lady Magdalene

    The impact of EU membership has been on our Democracy and Sovereignty. The Government we elect to the Westminster Parliament can no longer govern this country. Instead, the vast majority of our new laws originate in a supra-national organisation that is completely immune from the Democratic process.
    IF the proposal to join a Federal Union of Europe had been put to the British people, so that the implications were debated and the people voted to join there wouldn’t be a problem.
    But The British Establishment knew that the people would never agree, so they set out to achieve the same result by stealth. They can hardly complain when the people wake up to the deceipt and start demanding that their Democracy and Sovereignty be restored.
    There may be a value in being a citizen of Europe. But there are plenty of downsides as well. WE should make that decision and LibLabCON have been conspiring for decades to ensure that we don’t.

  14. Matt Tysoe

    A Guardian journalist attended a UKIP meeting and interviewed the people there, the entire evening was spent moaning about everything about the UK when she asked one of them if there was anything they still liked about the country the answer, ‘The past.’

    If the reports that over the weekend there has been a surge of Conservative Party members joining UKIP are true, I wonder when the telegraph will be printing the headline, ‘Will the last person in the Tory Party please switch out the lights’ with Cameron’s head framed in a light bulb.

    Make no bones about it – UKIPs absolute priority now must be to do the same to Labour. Hopefully their new manifesto when it appears will reflect that.

    The Little Englander movement is gaining momentum. And I say Little Englander with pride because it is classless.

    People who are turning to UKIP come from all walks of life and not just the working class. There is a whole cross section of new members from Business, Industry, Pensioners and especially younger voters, who want to be part of the growth of a party that stands firm for British Values, Sovereignty and Democracy, ecomomic growth and prosperity; where we can make our own laws and decide who and how many people we want to receive as immigrants into the UK, instead of evermore being run by some unelected corrupt individuals in Brussels.

  15. Vance Wells

    What an idiotic article. No idea whatsoever. Political director indeed! Who lets these people out of the nuthouse?

  16. Vance Wells

    Spot on.

  17. LB

    They spend all their time together in a collective form of group think.

    As such they have become completely deluded.

    The best example is why the pensions don’t appear as a debt.

    Take money from someone to pay back later and you are borrowing the money. It’s a debt. By all the accounting standards its a debt.

    However it doesn’t appear in the accounts because they don’t want you to know that you wont’ get a pension because they have spent your cash, and taken their cut in the interim 6% per year.

  18. gaswork

    Lets stay in the EU then as big business can
    select the cheapest part’s of Europe’s employment I suppose we can bid who
    works the cheapest like one big supper power. As these ridicules EU laws that
    have come into effect and now not to refill olive oil bottles as it does no say
    its contents of course this is just the start of more bull to come, you wont be
    able to sell diluted drinks next as you wont know the water content and where
    in came from I say out for me I have had enough of 40 years of rot.

  19. Thomas Kemp

    But it is classism – when contribution to society is limited to money, the poor get excluded. It’s austerity driven economic policy that has destroyed the lives of working and out-of-work people ( not migration.

  20. OldLb

    No its not.

    The reason is that a proper policy on migration helps the poor.

    Quotas that say we have to accept 500,000 poor people as migrants a year make the existing UK poor poorer. That’s what you are seeing now. It increases inequality and it makes them poor. [Not quite as poor as the welfare state spending their pension contributions]

    What’s classism about trying to help the poor and make them richer?

    Or is it that trying to make the rich poorer class warfare?

  21. Liberanos

    There’s no moral component to immigration whatsoever. It’s simply about money.
    With a cruel housing shortage, growing waiting lists for the NHS, unemployment at millions, real energy shortages, the last thing in the world we need is more people.

  22. Robbert Miles

    LibLabConUKIP support for the nuclear industry revolts me, along with their warmongering for oil. May the Greens be their long term undoing, even if it takes generations.

  23. Cole

    If we leave the EU, hopefully the French will kick Nigel Lawson out. Still, we don’t want the old loon back here.

  24. Jimmy

    Let’s have a referendum on NHS privatisation, not the stuff the swivel eyed loons care about.

  25. LB

    Could do.

    How about this question.

    What do we do with the staff that kill 40,000 a year in avoidable deaths?

  26. Jon Danzig

    You express a view that is shared by many. However, we still have our sovereignty. Only 8-10 per cent of British laws originate from the European Union, and not 75 per cent as UKIP falsely claims. And most laws of the EU are decided by the democratically elected European Parliament.

    There are advantages for us and the other EU nations to work together on specific international issues in an increasingly globalised world. For example, the United States wants to negotiate trade with the entire European Union, and not with the UK alone.

    I am a citizen of Britain, but also our membership of the EU gives us all some additional benefits. Such as being able to live, work, study or retire in any other country of the European Union.

    If there is a referendum, and British people vote to leave the EU, so be it. But I think we do need a full and open debate first, with respect on both sides. If we leave, it will be a one-way ticket that could affect the country for 100 years or more. So this needs to be considered most carefully.

  27. Lady Magdalene

    With the greatest of respect, your statement that only 8-10% of British laws originate with the EU is complete hogwash.
    Approximately 80% of policy areas are now either completely or significantly controlled by the EU. With the extension of QMV which was incorporated in the Lisbon Treaty, we will lose a veto on another 100 or so areas of competence.
    The EU imposes laws in a variety of ways: through Directives and Regulations and by requiring the British Government to conform to EU norms. The example this week of the proposed ban on Olive Oil containers is just one example of the myriad ways in which the EU seeks to impose uniformity thoughout the EU, riding roughshod over elected Parliaments.
    The EU Parliament is a sham. It has no Opposition (other than UKIP) and MEPs can simply accept the deluge of Directives and Regulations which spew out of the Commission, or it can propose changes. It cannot reject.
    More importantly, there is NO European Demos. You cannot have a Democratic Parliament when there is no Demos. All the MEPs are there to do is give a fig-leaf of democracy to an organisation which is profoundly undemocratic and anti-Democratic.
    By forcing us to remain a member of the EU, LibLabCON have effectively disenfranchised the British electorate. But people are waking up to the fact that our own MPs can do nothing to address many issues which are of significant concern to ordinary people – not least the deluge of Eastern European immigrants who have come and will continue to come.
    There are advantages to working with our European neighbours when it is appropriate for us to do so. That doesn’t require us to sink our Sovereignty into a wasteful, arrogant and corrupt organisation like the EU.

  28. Jon Danzig

    In my blog, I provided a link to the House of Commons library that conducted independent research into the percentage of UK laws that originated from the EU as being around 10%. You have quoted that the figure is 80%, but without providing a link to any independent empirically sourced research.

    Last year William Hague commissioned a full audit of the impact of EU law on the UK, but unfortunately this will not be completed until next year. Clearly, the issue is complicated, and not at all clear cut, otherwise it would not take the government two years to conduct and conclude their research. Mr Hague promised that the audit would constitute, “the most thorough and detailed analysis possible on the extent of EU powers.” Here’s a link to the BBC news item about this:

    It’s tedious to go around in circles, with each side claiming different statistics. I welcome any independent and factual research into what the EU does and how it may or may not benefit the UK, especially as some of the research is now somewhat dated.

    I think it’s important to follow evidence. In my blog, I provided links to research demonstrating that some of the assertions made by Mr Nigel Farage of UKIP during a radio interview did not appear to stand close scrutiny, including his claim that the EU is run by people we cannot elect. (The European Parliament is democratically
    elected, decides most EU laws, and has the power to reject all its

    I believe that the free movement of EU citizens across Europe benefits us all. According to statistics from the IPPR, more British people live in Spain than Polish people live in Britain. It’s a two way street. I am proud to be a British citizen, but I don’t want to lose my rights as a citizen of Europe.

    Finally, I feel reluctant to engage further with posters who will only comment anonymously. Please have the courage to post under your real name, and enter the debate openly.

  29. Jon Danzig

    At a debate this week about the future of the European Union, I asked politicians and academics, “How can we raise the level of debate in the UK about Europe?”

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