The UK Independence Party (UKIP), the far right, anti-Europe, anti-immigrant party may top the vote in May’s European elections, according to recent opinion polls.
A recent YouGov poll in put UKIP at 34%, Labour at 27% and the Tories 20%.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage boosted his party’s profile in two recent TV debates with LibDem leader Nick Clegg. The party currently has 35,000, members and in the last two European elections polled over two million votes.
Although the polls also suggest many fewer people would vote UKIP in a general election (about 12%, currently) UKIP is dragging the traditional parties to the right on questions of Europe and immigration. And its anti-foreigner rhetoric is preparing the way for a stronger, more aggressive political right in Britain.
Demagogically presenting itself as a party for “outsiders”, in opposition to “the Westminster elite”, UKIP is nothing of the sort.
UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, is no outsider. He is a rich man, a former City trader. UKIP would not only pull the UK out of Europe but would slash health spending, cut pensions, abolish inheritance tax and progressive taxation by introducing a single flat rate of income tax.
UKIP is for a large increase in defence spending. They also advocate a range of peculiar social policies designed to appeal to the established political right: opposition to gay marriage, opposition to wind farms, support for the monarchy and the established church.
UKIP is the home for a rag-bag of right-wing oddballs, including Godfrey Bloom who recently lost the UKIP whip after attacking a BBC journalist in the street and referring to UKIP’s women members as “sluts”; previously Bloom had condemned overseas aid as help for “bongo bongo land”. In January, David Silvester, then a UKIP councillor in Henley-on-Thames, suggested the recent floods were caused by David Cameron’s support for gay marriage.
Part of UKIP’s appeal is disgust for post-expenses scandal politics, and for politicians who are seen to be detached and corrupt. Maria Miller’s recent performance in parliament — parading her contempt in a 32 second apology for expenses fiddling — will help Farage. But “disgust” is a negative political response, and can be easily manipulated by right-wing loud-mouths.
Matthew Goodwin and Robert Hood, academics at the University of Nottingham and authors of a recent study of UKIP, Revolt on the Right, think the degree of alienation among UKIP voters is high. However they believe the party has not, yet, got a broad enough base to make a significant breakthrough in a general election.
Goodwin and Hood say Farage is attempting to spread the party’s appeal by reaching out to “left behind” alienated white workers, who may have voted either Conservative or Labour, but would be prepared to vote BNP. His appeal is for a return to a (mythical) Golden Age, before the EU and mass immigration, with bobbies on the beat, Union Jacks and the Queen, Empire.... and full employment.
So on the one hand UKIP magnifies and strengthens every backward, narrow, xenophobic message put out by the main political parties. And on the other it stirs up the economic insecurity felt by particular sections of society. UKIP is polluting —already tawdry and conservative —mainstream British politics.
UKIP’s increasing support is part of a broader trend across Europe. The main beneficiaries so far of the 2008 economic crisis have been the parties of the right. The Front Nationale made gains in last month French regional elections.
And UKIP’s message is popular partly because of the weakness and failures of the left. The Labour leaders have allowed Farage to define the terms of the debate on Europe and immigration.
Labour does not challenge UKIP clearly and openly. They are scared of losing votes by confronting populist British nationalism, standing up for refugees’ rights, migrant workers and links with Europe.
And the far left has often collapsed into “left” versions of little-Britain, nationalist, anti-EU nonsense. Seemingly the far left has not seen that the first victims of an EU-pull out will be Eastern European workers in Britain. Our support for migrants and opposition to the EU are in flat contradiction.
There will be no return to the days of Empire. Capitalist globalisation and the ever-tighter integration of economic and political life across Europe will continue — unless some political catastrophe intervenes, and rolls Europe backwards.
Capitalist globalisation is a fact. Mass immigration is here to stay. The capitalist ruling classes have brought Europe together. Our job is not to unpick their work. We are for a united Europe — but our Europe, a workers’ Europe, a Europe based on solidarity.
We say the unions and left must welcome migrant workers by unionising them and fighting for their rights. Across Europe we must campaign for a levelling up of conditions at work, pay, union rights and access to health care and welfare.
UKIP is the opposite of what we stand for. We stand for workers’ unity across borders and international socialism.
Why Maria Miller thinks that fiddling “only” £5,800 is innocent
"From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workers' wages", wrote Karl Marx, celebrating the short-lived workers' government of the Paris Commune in 1871.
The idea that the work of managing enterprises is no special entitlement to riches is the simplest of our democratic and egalitarian ideas. It is the opposite pole to the attitude of Tory minister Maria Miller, who has signalled that she resents even being investigated for over-claiming housing expenses as an MP. She regards the parliamentary committee's decision that she should repay £5,800 (rather than the £45,000 proposed by the investigating commissioner) as pretty much an acquittal.
The Miller case has blown up because many Tories want to scapegoat her for the Government's legislation for gay marriage.
Yet it also shines a light on the whole system.
The principle of capitalism is that the producers, the workers, get paid a quota determined by what it takes to bring the working class back to labour each week more or less fit and competent. The new value we produce is quite another quantity, and constantly expanding as the bosses squeeze out more productivity.
The surplus value, the extra value produced by workers' efforts above what we get back in wages, then flows around the capitalist class and its hangers-on through a million different channels.
Since the rise of the giant corporation, the channels are complex. Revenue flows through dividends, cashed-in share price rises, fees, and payments which are formally "wages".
The top bosses who are on paper "wage-workers", assume, and by their class position must assume, that they "deserve" an elasticity of income through "bonuses" and "expenses".
The government estimates a yearly total of £73 billion in fraud, almost twice the total education budget. Only a tiny proportion is benefit fraud (£1.6 billion: and that's far less than its converse, benefits which people are entitled to but don't claim).
Much of the £73 billion is the sort of "grey fraud" that Maria Miller thinks she's done: things rich people do on the assumption that they may have to pay a bit back if found out, but that's all.
Take three examples. A columnist in the Daily Telegraph was asked by a manager what to do about another manager found to be systematically claiming false travel expense claims for meetings which never took place. The columnist replied: maybe reprimand him. Beware of sacking him, because you may end up paying even more in a tribunal case.
A retired head teacher was brought to court last year for using the school's budget to pay out £2.7 million, over some years, to himself and cronies in bonuses. He got a suspended sentence and sad words about his great services to education.
The big banks are currently setting aside tens of billions of pounds or dollars for fines and compensation for mis-selling financial gimmicks or fiddling interest and exchange rates. It is taken for granted that they will settle the cases by agreeing a fine or compensation, not by any top boss suffering personally.
That "grey" fraud stands on top of a greater mass of white fraud, where bosses use company or public money openly to pay for lavish offices, or luxury travel to and "entertainment" at meetings which really do take place.
No wonder Maria Miller couldn't stop herself telling us that she resents being reprimanded over a mere £5,800 misappropriation.
To overturn this system of inequality, we must first overturn it within our own movement. Most union leaders reckon that they should benefit from the same principle that sees the managers in a company get much more pay and more lavish expenses and side-benefits than the workers do.
Union service too should be done, as in the Commune, "at workers' wages".