2014 elections focus: How do we solve a problem like UKIP?1
May 27, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
First, some statistical perspective, because it’s important. Turnout in the EU elections was around 32%. Of this, UKIP got 27.5% of the vote. That means that less than 10% of the electorate actually voted for UKIP last Thursday. That is hardly a landslide in their direction.
Then some electoral perspective on the local election results. Yes, UKIP picked up 161 seats. They actually won some seats using the same election system as the General Election – first past the post. But the electorate was voting in the council elections at the same time as they were voting in the EU elections. This means that someone looking to protest about the EU in that election would probably about voting for UKIP in the council elections without thinking about it. I would suggest that had the elections been a few months apart UKIP would have won far less council seats.
Then some political perspective. This was the protest vote to end all protest votes. It was a protest against the mainstream political establishment, whose policies are so similar and whose consensus is becoming exclusive of more and more people. It was a protest against the perceived effects of the EU on our population, from the money we are perceived to be sending to Brussels, to the laws that are perceived to be made in Brussels that we have to stick to, to the jobs that being part of the EU are perceived to be taking from Britains.
It is also a protest by many of those in this country who have been the ‘losers’ from the recent recession, who have been the ‘losers’ from globalisation, who have been the ‘losers’ from EU integration, who have been the ‘losers’ from the recovery as well in terms of the inequality it had entrenched in this society.
Make no mistake, those that voted for UKIP were not just older middle class white men railing against the loss of their power in this country. They were younger, working class voters, many of whom have lost their jobs or found themselves in ‘in-work’ poverty, that most egregious of inequalities that means we have people in this country working full time who have to use food banks and on whom the government spends more on benefits than it does on those out of work just to boost their income to a sensible level. These people are looking for someone to blame for their situation, and they are looking for a solution to their situation, and whilst the Labour party ARE offering some policies to make a difference on the minimum wage, rent and energy, these voters aren’t hearing them, because UKIP are offering what might look like an easier alternative.
Even if their policies are economically incoherent (read
for the costs of exiting the EU) their stance as the anti-politics party has worked at the moment and the patronising and sometimes infantile attempts to class them (and therefore their voters) as racist has driven more people to them by portraying them as victims, which they are certainly not.
It is interesting and important that UKIP got 30% of the vote around the country but less than 10% in London. So, where immigration is at its greatest, where communities live alongside each other immigration isn’t a problem. But where immigration is rare, where there is still a fear of the ‘other’, their vote was higher. There is little we can do about that, and no amount of telling people not to worry about immigration is going to work, particularly if they are struggling by trying to feed their family on say £8 an hour and competing with people happy to work for a lot less I without families to feed.
So there are two things we need to do before May 7th 2015. We need to help people who are planning to vote for UKIP in the election understand exactly what they are voting for, by highlighting their policies on areas other than the EU and immigration. But we also need to be positive in offering an alternative for people who are seeing little alternative than to vote for them.
Some people are comparing UKIP to the Tea Party in the USA. Similarities include that they are broadly right-wing in hush eir policy agenda, both style themselves as representing the normal person on the street, and both claim to be reengaging people who had drifted away from politics back into the political process. But the Tea Party is actually far stranger. It uses rich people’s money to persuade poor people to vote for rich people to pay less tax, which is genius in its own way. It doesn’t even try and pretend that it is on the side of the working class. UKIP is different in that they are pretending they are on the side of the working class. But a closer look at their policies shows that they simply cannot back that up, and this must be highlighted.
I say, closer look at their policies, but if you have a look at what purports to be their policies page (http://www.ukip.org/issues) you will have trouble finding many details about those policies. They are disowning their previous manifesto from 2010, which included such progressive ideas as charging for GP visits and a flat tax for everyone. Their current ideas include bringing back grammar schools, scrapping all environmental policies and very little on health at all except that those working full time will be able to see their GP in the evening. There is a pile of spending promises that are going to be hard to fund and of course exit from the EU, which will actually cost the UK money as opposed to saving it any, even by optimistic forecasts. My point is, we should be engaging as many UKIP politicians on policies across ALL areas, not just having 30 minutes on the EU or immigrants every time Nigel Farage is on Question time.
But it also we need to have some answers for those people who are ‘losers’ I mentioned above. How are we educating them to help them compete in the global marketplace? How can we help them gain the skills to be able to feed their families. How about we show them the way make the most of themselves instead of leaving them no choice but to vote for the party that is saying “stop the world we want to get off”.
At hyena moment UKIP seem to be at the fourth stage of Gandhi’s prophesy. We have ignored them, laughed at them, fought them and they have won. We should have debated them, not fought them, and helped those who are voting for them to win, without needing to vote for the party of self-defenestration.
I agree with almost all of this. Yes of course we should challenge their arguments and defeat them in actual debate – as opposed to just scoffing and expressing liberal indignation in our liberal metropolitan circles.
The response to UKIP should be measured and rational – as in your post – but I have to say that my gut reaction to the election last week was despair and embarrassment. The fact that so many people will vote for a party containing spokesmen who refer to Africa as ‘Bongo-Bongo land’ and who blame the flooding on Gay marriage makes me ashamed to be English – but then this is a country where the best selling ‘newspapers’ are The Mail and The Sun.
Farage is pulling a similar stunt to what you describe above about the Tea Party – he is conning people into thinking that he’s a normal bloke like them – because he drinks pints and smokes fags – but actually he’s as much of a toff as Cameron, Osborne and Boris. Not that this would be a problem if he weren’t doing his bit (along with those other noted underdogs and outsiders, the Tories and the right wing press) to stir up hatred and fear of foreigners and poor people.