UKIP can’t always be all things to all people

The more concretely we paint UKIP as a pointless third-rate Thatcher tribute band, the more effective it will prove.

The more concretely we paint UKIP as a pointless third-rate Thatcher tribute band, the more effective it will prove

A sneering metropolitan elitist observation on the part of a self-confessed male moisturiser user this may be, but I can’t help noticing that UKIP has achieved its breakthrough without offering the punters any clear ideological self-definition. That might just be one aspect of its success.

Clearly it stands somewhere in the badlands to the right of the Tories, a fact that makes its advent as a serious political force all the more remarkable. Parties in that space have historically secured even fewer electoral victories than parties to the left of Labour, itself an extremely low bar.

Yet somehow UKIP is on the cusp of becoming a fixture in Westminster life. Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless are only the outriders of a likely double-digit sized contingent of UKIP MPs come next May.

There is even a mercifully slim outside chance that it will be in government in little more than six months’ time; the Daily Telegraph reports that David Cameron is open to a needs-must coalition with the very people he once sneeringly dismissed as ‘loonies, fruitcakes and closet racists’.

Effectively, we have entered terra nullis; a Conservative Party that has traditionally hegemonised the entire political space between the softer end of social democracy and a certain strand of hang ‘em and flog ‘em imperialist nostalgia politics must all of a sudden share the bandwidth.

So let us try to define this upstart new arrival that little bit more closely. For ages UKIP just seemed odd, a fringe organisation designed to provide a protest vote option in that quinquennial euro bust-up nobody takes particularly seriously. Think Monster Raving Loony Party with a veneer of ostensible seriousness.

Once it garnered support numbering into the hundreds of thousands, commentators moved on to dismissing them as the respectable face of gin and Jag belt racism. They were ‘the BNP in blazers’, as the cliche went.

Wrong again. No Farage Youth are to be seen leafletting outside Jewish shops. UKIP is not a fascist or proto-fascist organisation, however hard some anti-racist campaigners try to hint otherwise.

But the confusion is understandable, given that even its own leadership has not seen fit to offer a succinct statement of UKIP’s political philosophy. Nigel Farage himself tends to rely on an incoherent grab bag of ideas, picking up whatever golf club is suitable for the required stroke.

Sometimes he is Nigel the libertarian, claiming the imprimatur of John Stuart Mill on the back of the one quotation from On Liberty that everybody knows by heart. But it is an odd libertarian that has difficulty with the notion of equal marriage or the abolition of borders.

Sometimes he describes himself as ‘green at heart’ and then goes on to reveal that he does not accept the reality of anthropogenic global warming, which does rather bring his grasp of the science into question.

More useful, I think, is Farage’s own admission that he is a Thatcherite but not a Conservative. His autobiography quotes Larkin’s famous if patently dubious contention that sexual intercourse began in 1963; what is clear is that for Farage, politics began in 1979.

Yet even to describe UKIP as neo-Thatcherite doesn’t hit the nail on the head. While the debt is obvious, Thatcherism was of its time and place, and that time and place is very different from where we are now.

With unions already emasculated, nationalised industry already privatised and council housing already flogged off at a steep discount, a second showing of the movie is impossible.

UKIP is accordingly reduced to being against things, most notably immigration and the EU, rather than for them.

Thatcher’s politics were famously categorised by Marxism Today – a surprisingly popular political magazine during her period in office – as ‘authoritarian populism’. It’s almost tempting to resurrect the tag, with the inevitable coda of ‘the second time as farce’.

What we have is populism in its most comedic form, a straightforward appeal to the wisdom of the imagined ordinary Brit, of no specified social class, combined with constant reiteration of the betrayals of ‘the elite’, syllogistically arranged to force the practical conclusion that it is time to throw the bums out.

UKIP under Farage may not be its finalised expression. Carswell has greater intellectual heft, a rudimentary agenda around direct democracy, and is said to be not unambitious.

But the moment this party articulates a specific ideological vision, it will be harder to pull off the double act of promoting itself as the alternative to the Tories in Clacton and the alternative to Labour in Heywood and Middleton.

Let’s not counter UKIP’s appeal by floating calls for reduced access to benefits for EU migrants, as Rachel Reeves did in the Daily Mail earlier this week; the route one football here is to repeatedly pin it down on NHS privatisation and scrapping maternity leave instead.

The more concretely we paint them as a faintly pointless third-rate Thatcher tribute band hankering after the politics of 30 years ago, the more effective it will prove.

David Osler is a London-based journalist and writer

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20 Responses to “UKIP can’t always be all things to all people”

  1. swat

    Its a protest vote; get over it. Yes UKIP will unfortunately always be with us, like the right wing facist Party in Denmarks Borgen, but it’ll have some say, but not very much.

  2. littleoddsandpieces

    So UKIP won again a second hand sitting Tory MP.

    But Tory, Labour and UKIP all offer nothing to huge numbers

    of women born from 1953 and men born from 1951

    absolutely nothing with the biggest con in UK history of the flat rate pension

    that will leave many with NIL STATE PENSION FOR LIFE

    and for the bulk of the rest far, far less state pension,

    already the lowest of all rich nations bar poor Mexico.

    The Greens beat the Lib Dems in Rochester and Strood and came up close to Labour.

    But if women especially but also men, suffering from austerity, had known about the losses coming to them of the flat rate pension, when factor in half of over 50s are within the working poor and large numbers of pensioners are also within the 20 per cent lowest income, The Greens could have done a lot better, by making public their unique and new policies of:

    – universal, automatic, Citizen Income, non-withdrawable

    – Bettered Citizen State Pension, paying full state pension not pro rata basic to any citizen and leaving no citizen with no food and fuel money for life as coming with the flat rate pension after 2016.

    Even leaving an old dear turning 80 that year without the tiny top up to an already part basic state pension.

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    While the far right will always be with us, history shows that the party who attracts them will change in it’s name on a regular basis.

    And “protest vote” is an excuse – if you vote for a party in a national election, you’re voting for their expressed policies.

  4. Guest

    Again, what does a Hamas supporting site have to do with your confusing rant?

  5. treborc1

    Sorry but with labour and the Tories paper thin policies they are so close on the deficit, I suspect many people will sit at home and others who cannot will vote UKIP.

    In Scotland of course they do have a real choice in the left leaning SNP we do not have that down here.

  6. madasafish

    What an ill timed article.

    What we have is populism in its most comedic form, a straightforward appeal to the wisdom of the imagined ordinary Brit, of no specified social class, combined with constant reiteration of the betrayals of ‘the elite’

    No. You are wrong. What we have is an unsufferable superiority and contempt for voters by leading Labour politicians, I say politicians because the previous Labour Leader called people “bigoted” when they raised the subject of immigration .

    Once could be an error, twice must be the mask slipping again.

    I am no supporter of UKIP but when they rail about the remoteness and self evident contempt politicians have for voters.. they are telling the truth.

    But the moment this party (UKIP) articulates a specific ideological vision, it will be harder to pull off the double act of promoting itself as the alternative to the Tories in Clacton and the alternative to Labour in Heywood and Middleton.

    About as bad as Labour claiming to support the “working class” then.

  7. blarg1987

    Then people should do the polar opposite and actually vote!

    What we have is people unwilling to vote, and political parties who are aiming for the same swing seats (hence the reason party policies are similar).

    The only way we will get real political change is to encourage more people to vote, not sit at home expecting a new political party to represent our own views.

    Granted there maybe no political party that has all the policies you want, but if you vote for a political party that is closest to what you want, and it is a sizeable number, then you will get either the political party moving towards your ideal policies or new political parties formed to attract those votes.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    So you’re saying that the left will vote UKIP. Right, well, keep pushing the propaganda fore your chosen party.

    No other way I can interpret that from where I’m standing.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    You’re stuck in top-down politics. There’s also bottom-up, and the reason we have similar politics is FPTP.

    I can and will spoil my ballot paper* – I will not sign my name to a party of neoliberalism and austerity, because it’ll lead my condoning further rightward moves.

    (*Or vote for a local one-issue candidate, if he stands)

    The problem is FPTP, and we won’t see meaningful choices under it.

  10. Guest

    Oh yes, other views exist. Surprise!
    Your bigotry shines, as ever, as you admit your mask is slipping.

    You’re to the right of UKIP, yes, right. And?

  11. blarg1987

    Top down politics is waiting for a party to appear that represents your view and vote for them.

    Bottom up politics is voting for a party that may not have everything you agree with but then causes the political parties to move in the direction to attract your vote.

    On your second point, spoiling your paper will achieve nothing, the way to achieve change will be over several elections, firstly we have to stop or low down neoliberism and austerity so that may mean voting labour at this election, while supporting parties such as the greens where possible.

    The next election, move the vote more the other way and vote for parties like the greens as they grow then you slowly pull the political consensus back.

    Remember it took us nearly 30 years to get where we are, it will probably take another 30 to undo the damage their is no silver bullet and that the sooner we acknowledge the sooner we can start changing things for the better :).

  12. Just Visiting


    you write:

    > Clearly it stands somewhere in the badlands to the right of the Tories,

    But that reveals your old-fashioned thinking:

    That anyone with immigration questions must, by definition, be right wing.

    But the truth on the ground is that many classical blue-collar workers, that old-school politics says should be ‘on the left’: ALSO have big questions about immigration; because it is they who have lost employment in recent years due to new levels of immigration.
    So the old left/right scale is no longer representing reality.

    I don’t think you are helping left thinkers to wrestle with the current landscape as it is, when you simplistically park UKIP on the old-fashioned left-right scale.

  13. Leon Wolfeson

    That’s a complete mis-characterisation of bottom-up politics. I would suggest finding an old comrade and getting the full lecture on it, it’s one of the things they’re useful for, political theory…

    And where’s the party which dosn’t support neoliberalism or austerity which I can vote for, again? (And don’t say the Greens, really, you know my specific issues with them).

    Your soloution of voting for a party which is neoliberal and pushing austerity means…er…neoliberalism and austerity. There is no “other way” on this issue, Labour have very clearly said where they stand.

    And Thatcher didn’t need 30 years to change the consensus. Neither did the 1945 government. But as the 1945 government’s consensus stood until Thatcher, we are stuck with her consensus today.

  14. blarg1987

    It is not a mis-characterisation at all, simply providing of an example of how we can easily apply it.

    And to answer your question it is the Greens, no political party is going to have everything you want. if you really want a party that represents everything you want then stump up £500 and stand as a candidate.

    Alternatively we do what I suggested and slow down neo liberism first, then reverse it, those are the three choices you have.

    And it is true it did not take 30 years to change consensus but the fall out has taken 30 years to hit the fan.

    The trouble with the two things you have mentioned is that they were on the back of huge strife, which we have not reached yet, so the only way to change things is going to be a slow process as I have said over several elections.

  15. Leon Wolfeson

    I want a party which does not cross some *basic* lines. No austerity, no anti-science worldview, willing to *consider* free-market policies as opposed to neoliberalism. There are exactly *two* western countries were there is not a mainstream party like this – America and Britain.

    No, I will not vote for the Greens and their agenda.

    And we certainly is a crisis and strife (see – UKIP, disenfranchisement of the left, etc.) , and very arguably in worse shape than we were in 1945. When (I don’t think it’s “if” now) the downwards wage/productivity crisis causes a huge crash….

  16. Guest

    Keep frantically trying to deny UKIP’s right wing politics, as you try and prevent debate.

    No, people on the left don’t want to end trade and cause mass poverty, they’re plain not voting rather than voting UKIP, by all the evidence,

    As you make excuse after excuse for the far right who are your fellow travellers, and who you are with excuses like that post condoning every action of. They’re doing it in your name, and you’re not rejecting them.

  17. blarg1987

    Well then no doubt we will see you standing to be an MP in May then.

    While you may be right on your last point, public perception does not believe that, and so until it changes we are still stuck with having to do gradual change.

  18. Leon Wolfeson

    You’re going to pay the fee, then? Also, abolish FPTP first, right?
    You’re stuck, utterly, on top-down methodologies.

    And no, you are arguing for no to gradual change. I disagree, since we’ll have radical change sooner or later – if we don’t do it before the economy collapses, it’ll be far more painful for Britain and the British.

    I freely admit I have the right of residence in another country and would likely flee if things got THAT bad. I’m not a masochist.

  19. blarg1987

    No I am going to pay the fee, or abolish FPTP.

    However you do have the option to stand, and based on what you have said that is the only option open to you if you want change.

    Alternatively create a new party and start working with friends to stump up the cash.

  20. Leon Wolfeson

    Again, rot, you’re just utterly wedded to top-down power and refuse to see anything else.

    And even for that, I don’t need a party with MY views, I just need a party of the broad left.

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