UKIP’s rise isn’t the end of politics – but it does mean the end of the left-right continuum

UKIP has short-circuited the left-right continuum and defied triangulation.

UKIP has short-circuited the left-right continuum and defied triangulation

Whether or not UKIP’s success last month was an ‘earthquake’, it was unquestionably a shifting of the tectonic plates. The striking factor about the May results was not the scale of the UKIP swing, but the ‘cravat and tracksuit’ breadth of the alliance behind it.

Nigel Farage’s victories were brought on by a coalition of Shire Tories and blue collar voters from outside London; those, across society, who consider themselves deficiaries of post-industrialisation.

The feeling among many on the left is of something inexorable. A rough beast; a centre that cannot hold. UKIP’s electoral appetite seems beyond placation. Paul Mason summed this up in his excellent article on Britain’s ‘culture wars’. The new division, he suggests, isn’t between left and right but between globalised and provincial.

Although this tells part of the story, it doesn’t fully explain the political implications. UKIP has short-circuited the left-right continuum and defied triangulation – the process where parties treat their core vote as secure and move towards the centre. Miliband can no longer fall back on working-class voters in Rotherham, nor Cameron take for granted ‘retired colonels’ in the Home Counties.

This has largely been attributed to Farage’s star quality and/or demagoguery – his role as lightning rod for disillusionment. There’s truth in this, but it gives him too much credit. What we’re actually seeing is something more profound: a bipolar political system in the process of becoming tripolar. Farage is the collector of this legacy – but he’s not its creator.

So what does this third pole look like?

The British Values Survey, ongoing since the 1970s, holds some answers. It segments the population into three groups: Settlers, Pioneers, and Prospectors. Settlers are socially conservative, and worried about external threats to resources. Pioneers are inner-directed, liberal and concerned about fairness. Prospectors are optimistic, competitive and esteem-driven.

It would be fair to say Labour’s historically redistributive, communitarian policies have been tailored to Pioneers and some Settlers, while the Conservatives’ have appealed to Prospectors and, again, some Settlers. Thatcher’s success was in making the Tories the undisputed Prospector party. Blair’s was in winning back Prospector votes – aspirational people who had become averse to the Tory line on immigration and sexuality.

The Values Model cannot be appropriated to party politics too neatly, but by differentiating between these groups it recognises something the political orthodoxy doesn’t. It identifies that, while social liberalism and economic conservativism have traditionally coalesced at one end of the spectrum – with economic liberalism the bedfellow of social conservativism at the other – they come from wholly different places.

These factions are now breaking off, though, and we’re moving towards a spectrum with three distinct ‘Poles’:

a)     Conservative, protectionist, communitarian, nationalistic, nostalgic

b)      Progressive, fairness-driven, economically conservative but internationalist

c)      Individualistic, big business, open to diversity (but considers it subsidiary to the market)

Or, to put it crudely, the Mail (Pole A), the Guardian (Pole B) and the Times (Pole C).

These fault lines aren’t new, but the way they’ve been laid bare – and exacerbated – since the financial crisis is. Whereas once the interests of the wealthy and the nationalistic might have been intertwined, there’s now scant overlap.

Indeed, the very label ‘Far Right’ – with its implication that common ground exists between the EDL supporter and the multinational company CEO (if only the latter were more extreme) – shows how redundant the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ are. Pole A is no closer to Pole C than to Pole B.

Almost all explanations of this lead to one source: globalisation. This has exposed that the motivations of Poles A, B and C, which have often lain beside one another politically, are incompatible. It’s abruptly become clear, for example, that those who are anti-immigration and those who are pro-free markets actually don’t have much in common.

Indeed, in relation to the ‘European Question’ their views are irreconcilable.

Likewise on the left. Is Labour a champion of white working-class values or of the diversity cherished by the ‘metropolitan elite’? It’s becoming impossible to be both.

What currently have, then, is an increasingly tripolar spectrum, but imagined by politicians and public alike as a bipolar one. This creates a climate riven by cynicism, apathy, and non-sequiturs. Labour tries to appease those near Pole A by apologising for immigration. In so doing it convinces those near Pole B that it’s a right-wing sell-out, and those near Pole C that it’s the party of anti-market parochialism.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives cut the top rate of tax to appeal to Pole C: an affront to the egalitarian values of Pole B and the everyman alienation of Pole A.

Politics thus becomes a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. That the political actors become quicker at producing a flat palm or a bunched fist only further convinces the electoral of how sly and ideologically bankrupt they truly are.

Adapting to the post-globalisation, tripolar politics will be difficult. Whereas triangulation makes some sense – as a purely political strategy – quadrangulation does not. As the world changes the approach of ‘tacking’ one way or another – as though adjusting the volume on the television – will become unavailable.

Only by accepting this can party leaders – be they conviction or consensus politicians – find a way out of the present rut.

Chris Clarke is an associate researcher at the Campaign Company

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19 Responses to “UKIP’s rise isn’t the end of politics – but it does mean the end of the left-right continuum”

  1. corsaro

    Good article – I think you are spot on with your analysis, UKIP has confounded most of the political media who can’t see beyond the left/right stereotypes.

  2. LittleOddsandPieces

    There is no rut, only lack of exposure to parties that would bring back the left / right politics.

    If TUSC had said what it offered and not fell in the trip of negative campaigning, then its video might not have been banned for the May 22 elections.

    TUSC – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – is an umbrella to bring together all the arguing for arguing’s sake little socialist parties, too interested in debate and not in staving off starvation in England and winning big in 2015.

    Gandhi observed, that People’s Politics Are Their Daily Bread.

    Only the socialist will bring daily bread the the lowest half of income in a nation.

    If TUSC want to win big then offering back the most ignored of people in the nation, lost votes to all parties, is women losing state pension at 60 and then all state pension life, losing food money, benefit, food vouchers to food banks.

    Spreading in your social media the existence of this petition, will inform women who, in the main, do not know all the lack of money in old age about to befall them.

    If the socialists also offered to revoke the Pension Bill and the Flat Rate Pension, then they would form a majority government in 2015.

    And here is how to do it?

    There is a spat going on inside Labour to the Miliband support group. If those who ran as canditates for TUSC (also including those who ran for Left Unity Party) and Mebyon Kernow in Cornwall, became the lead group in Labour, then Labour would win a landslide victory in 2015.

    Labour is only hoping not to lose and be inside a minority government, which means the Tories have won in 2015. Another 5 years of Tory rule will mean more suffering and even death amongst the poor of all ages.

    There are professional politicians in TUSC who have been in government, so it is not as impossible a task as you might think, to go up against the professional political leadership in a Labour that has been led down a blind alley by Progress.

    Best of luck. Here is the banned TUSC video (OK to watch now as after May 22 elections) on my personal website:

  3. swatnan

    more like stangulation of the political economy, with a message of getting back to the good old days; only there never were good old days for those in poverty and the breadline and on low wages.

  4. treborc1

    The labour party in 1945 gave us the NHS, they gave us a new council housing, and they gave us an updated welfare state, but the labour party then lost power for three terms and the Tories finished it all off.

    When labour returned it basically updated most of the things they started,and ruled and then left power. Thatcher came in of course and the new way stated up again the market banking and the financial sector took over, then Blair got in and stated to flog it all, NHS Post Office, Royal Mail, the Royal Mint, the poor the weak the sick the disabled became not wanted so to day I’m voting UKIP simple because no body else to vote for.

    After all why bother with a labour party who’s only offer is to do the same as the Tories cut cut cut and not build build build. The posh squeaky little voice that tells us about Labour and hard work never tried it himself , so when he sits and tell us you will not get something for nothing you have to contribute what the F*ck as he done he stayed in University then started work for Blair, then rushed off to America to help Obama for nothing rushed back became an MP Minister and leader , and he tells me and people like me to work hard.

    So Farage these days looks more and more like a leader then Miliband will ever do, but of course since Farage knows he will not win he can say what he likes , but he’d better be careful he may well end up in coalition with the either Miliband or Cameron, what a thought.

  5. robertcp

    People have been claiming that the division between left and right is no longer relevant for decades. However, the choice is still between a left of centre government and a right of centre government in nearly all countries. Some people on the left are authoritarian but usually there are more liberals on the left.
    It makes more sense to argue that social change has resulted in class-based voting and the decline of the two-party system of the 1950s and 1960s. Many UKIP voters would have been working class Conservatives at that time, while many working class people would have voted Labour despite authoritarian views that were often racist. Left-liberal voters have probably increased significantly due to the expansion of higher education.

  6. Coke

    Most of their policies – as far as they can be ascertained – are right wing: flat tax, hostility to the NHS, climate change denial, immigration. You have to make a distinction between what they believe in and who they appeal to.

  7. Cole

    You’ll find out very quickly about the difference between Labour and Tory if we get a Conservative majority government…

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    “What we’re actually seeing is something more profound: a bipolar political system in the process of becoming tripolar.”

    Thanks for that UKIP party political message. Always nice when the right’s researchers out themselves. FPTP is a 2.x party system, that’s not going to change, and UKIP draws few voters from labour, let alone the left Labour abandoned.

    This article is right-wing tabloid trash designed to move the overton window!

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    No, in fact left-liberal voters in the UK are on the decline, because there’s nobody to vote for. Our political system is all shades of right these days.

  10. Leon Wolfeson

    Like what? Labour have committed to austerity, have used the same language against the jobless as the Tories, etc.

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    The problem being they ONLY appeal to socialists, and not the wider left, or people simply dissatisfied with the right wing government.

  12. robertcp

    That was definitely true in 2005 but is less true now.

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    Eh? It’s far *more* true than in 2005. Labour keep moving right!

  14. robertcp

    I do no think that Miliband is to the right of Tony Blair and New Labour. Returning to your first reply, I am confused by your point that the number of liberal-left voters is in decline because they have nobody to vote. People do not stop existing because they are not well served by political parties.

  15. neilcraig

    If these 3 poles were valid the Mail readers would outnumber the other 2 by 10 to 1. However it is nonsense.

    Ronald Reagan was much smarter than the author when he said his victory was the result of a conspiracy between the workers and the bosses against the others. UKIP and the Tea party are the same. The LabConDems are run by people who have largely never worked a day in their life for anybody who wasn’t taking money out of the taxpayer’s pockets to pay them (ditto the openly corrupt BBC propagandists).

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    Any kind of policy analysis shows a strong move to the right.

    And they are no longer *voters*. They are *non-voters*. Worse, a proportion don’t register to vote if they move, and since (stupidly) we use voters and not population for MP’s areas..

    Labour has worked very hard to drive the left away, with things like three-year forward looking benefit cuts..

  17. Leon Wolfeson

    Not at all. They appeal to the right with policies of the right. Look at the breakdown of the tabs on UK Polling Report…they appeal very little to Labour voters, let alone the (non-)voters Labour moved rightwards, away from, over the last decade.

    What’s “new” is the press hype, no more.

  18. robertcp

    I have a lot of sympathy for your point of view and was close to leaving the Labour Party for several years..

  19. Leon Wolfeson

    Thanks. I currently live in what could be a key swing seat too, for a change. rather than being in a safe seat.

    I voted partly Labour in the locals, but as it stands there’s no way I could vote Labour at the general election.

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