It is now common to meet working-class people who say they are sympathetic to, or will vote for, the UK Independence Party. Clearly what they stand for has a resonance, including a resonance with former Labour supporters, alienated by New Labour's record in government. Anti-fascist activists need to arm themselves against this unpleasant far-right party.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) polled 16.5% of the vote in the 2009 European elections beating Labour and winning 13 seats in the European parliament. UKIP will get fewer votes in the coming general election — partly because of the voting system, and partly because this election will be about electing a national government. Nonetheless, it will pick up votes.
Writing recently in The Times UKIP founder Alan Sked denounced its increasing intolerance, “If the party is really so obsessed with race, immigration and Islam, it should simply merge with the BNP, which it increasingly resembles... I hope that all decent people will condemn the party.”
UKIP also seems unfazed by a series of expenses scandals which have embroiled its MEPs, and happily denounces the “Brussels Gravy-train” while indulging itself.
UKIP's key policies are withdrawal from the EU, defence of the pound, opposition to immigration and — increasingly — a stand against the “Islamisation” of the UK, offering a “respectable” alternative to those who believe themselves “better” than the fascist BNP.
They appeal to former Tories who believe Cameron is too cosmopolitan and soft, and those too self-consciously proletarian to ever consider voting for a posh Tory in the first place.
In an effort to broaden its policy base UKIP also offers a radical-right welfare state policy, which, for example, advocates tearing up current benefits policy, and comes complete with cliches about scroungers and single mums.
However, UKIP’s major policy statements also include peculiar, quirky attempts at social micro-management. For example, “UKIP would allow pubs and clubs to introduce properly ventilated ‘smoking rooms’ or to choose to be designated as ‘all smoking’ or ‘all not smoking’ according to its clientele” — something which was probably — literally — dreamt up in a bar late at night. The party has a strange amateurishness alongside populist political opportunism.
UKIP’s appeal is to what sociologists might identify as a particular layer in the “lower middle classes” — a layer and an attitude that is well-known to anyone familiar with small-town or suburban Britain: pale and white, frightened, timid, curtain-twitching, house-price-obsessed, mean, narrow, parochial and solidarity-free. And like all effective populists they know who they are aiming at: their material includes an “anti-establishment” element, condemning the big-bourgeoisie as “anti-British”.
UKIP claims, “Britishness can be defined in terms of belief in democracy, fair play and freedom, as well as traits such as politeness.” The Britishness of politeness will probably come as a surprise to many Spanish and Greek waiters. Of course it is risible nonsense — the British as a whole are no more or less polite as a group than any other people.
This mythologising about the unique quality of British “decency” is a sad echo from times past (a utopian and nationalist appeal to resurrect Great Britain's glory), but is also a nod towards the fear produced by the very real social decay we see around us.
Dealing with UKIP adequately can only be accomplished by a revitalised labour movement, capable of spreading a message of internationalism and solidarity to those at the edges of the working class.