The way to stop Ukip is NOT to ape their policies

March 11, 2013 at 5:58 pm (Anti-Racism, AWL, benefits, capitalist crisis, Cuts, democracy, Europe, Jim D, populism, Racism, solidarity, UKIP, welfare, workers)

Adapted by JD from Workers Liberty/Solidarity (editorial)

Ukip has seen its support surge, most recently in the 28 February Eastleigh by-election where it won 11,571 votes — 27.8%, an increase of 24%, and enough to beat the Tories into third place. A recent opinion poll puts them on 17% – well ahead of the Lib Dems and exactly 10% behind the Tories..

They have also just won a local council seat in the North West.

Last year, in the Croydon North by-election, Ukip polled 1,400 votes, an increase of 4%. In Rotherham, it won 4,648 votes (21.67%), coming second. In Middlesbrough, it also finished second with 1,990 votes (11.8%).

The trends suggest that Ukip stands a good chance of gaining the most votes of any party at next year’s European Parliament elections.

A great deal of debate has taken place in the mainstream press about whether Ukip’s recent electoral gains were just “protest votes”, rather than indicators of the party consolidating a longer-term, loyal base. If the vote was an expression of “protest”, the questions are: who was doing the protesting, what were they protesting about, and in the name of what alternative?

A study into Ukip’s vote at the 2009 European elections, where they came second to Labour and won 16.1% of the vote, argued that Ukip’s “core supporters” are “a poorer, more working-class, and more deeply discontented group who closely resemble supporters of the BNP and European radical right parties.”

The BNP would sometimes pitch “to the left”; leader Nick Griffin claimed in 2002 that his party was “the only socialist party in Britain”, and the BNP’s local work often has an explicitly “working-class” edge and includes opposition to cuts to local services. Ukip’s pitch is different.

Where the BNP might demagogically and disingenuously attack Labour for abandoning white workers, Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage focuses on attacking David Cameron for not being conservative enough. The Tories failed in Eastleigh, Farage said, because “traditional Tory voters look at Cameron and ask themselves: is he a Conservative? And they conclude, no, he is not. He is talking about gay marriage, wind turbines, unlimited immigration from India, he wants Turkey to join the EU.” The Daily Mail‘s Peter Hitchens described Ukip as “the Thatcherite Tory Party in exile”. Ukip wants compulsory “workfare” schemes for anyone on benefits, greater privatisation in education, and a part-privatised “national health insurance” model to replace the NHS.

But despite its right-wing pitch and the fact that 60% of Ukip supporters previously voted Tory (see chart at the top), figures in the Independent show that more than 40% of Ukip supporters oppose the Tories’ cap on tax credits and benefits, 43% want increased spending on public services, and more Ukip supporters than Lib Dem supporters believe that “the government is cutting too deeply”. There is a potentially unstable contradiction between Ukip’s ultra-Tory policies and the instincts of some of its working-class supporters.

It would be patronising and complacent, though, to believe that working-class people who vote Ukip do so simply to express a vague “protest” without any real understanding of or belief in what the party stands for. It is dangerous to imagine that if some left-wing electoral vehicle can replicate Ukip’s populist pitch (but from the left), we can repeat their success.

The Socialist Party-led Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stood in the Rotherham, Middlesbrough, and Eastleigh by-elections on as “populist” a pitch as one could wish for — a lowest-common-denominator anti-cuts appeal. TUSC came out of the “No2EU” coalition, an attempt to tap into anti-EU and anti-migrant sentiment “from the left”. TUSC polled 620 votes in total across the three by-elections, less than half of Ukip’s lowest single score. Unfortunately Ukip’s vote represents a layer of anti-migrant, anti-Europe feeling amongst working-class people — which the left needs to relate to with a serious long-term political campaign based on socialist ideas and emphasising working-class unity.

Peter Woodhouse, a Ukip-voting train driver and former Labour supporter interviewed in the Guardian, said: “One of the reasons I voted for Ukip is immigration. I’m worried about the dropping of the barrier in January. I fully expect 2-4 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come over. What’s it going to be like? We’re a small island.” Sarah Holt, a shopworker, said: “They have talked to me about their policies and I agree with a lot of what they have told me. There’s going to be more and more foreigners coming in and taking everything from us. It’s diabolical.”

Although senior Tories like Kenneth Clarke have warned against a rightwards lurch in response to Ukip’s success, a cabinet committee met on 5 March to examine “wide-ranging plans” to restrict Bulgarian and Romanian immigration to Britain without breaching EU law.

But, critically, where is the Labour Party, the wider labour movement, and the left? Eastleigh was a dismal showing for Labour, finishing fourth in a by-election while in opposition for the first time in nearly 15 years.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper unveiled Labour’s new immigration policy last week, and while it is focusing on “crackdowns” on employers who exploit migrants, previous “crackdowns” have been used as cover to deport migrant workers rather than level up their conditions.

The far-left is politically hamstrung on the issue, having been desperately attempting to give a progressive gloss to anti-EU sentiment for years. The “No2EU” coalition and the (closely-related) Campaign Against Euro Federalism have even attacked “the so-called ‘free movement of labour’”, and “the social dumping of migrant labour”. A speech by the then-RMT President Alex Gordon to a 2011 conference of the “People’s Movement” (an Irish anti-EU coalition) argued for restrictions on immigration on the basis that continued “mass migration” would “feed the poison of racism and fascism”.

The left needs more than a change of approach or tactics; it needs a change of politics. Attempting to convince Ukip-supporting workers that their anti-migrant and anti-EU feeling would be better and more progressively expressed by voting for some supposedly “left” electoral formation (Respect, No2EU, TUSC, etc) than for Ukip is a dead-end.

We need to convince workers of an alternative set of ideas: that the enemy is not “Europe” but capitalist austerity, and that the answer to fears about increased migration putting a strain on jobs, wages, and services is not to restrict migration but to organise all workers — British-born and migrant — to fight for the levelling up of conditions to provide living wages, decent jobs, housing, and public services for all. The labour movement needs an emergency plan that can unite workers across Europe to fight for working-class policies against the policies of austerity.

• Sign this statement — “Equal rights for migrant workers!”


  1. Leon J Williams said,

    The ‘left’ have the wrong approach, I say ‘left’ because it’s not all left-wing parties, mainly just the ones with Socialist or Communist in the title.

    The Greens have the right approach, Yes to Europe, Yes to a referendum and Yes to major EU reform.

    The left must support being part of Europe and support the free movement of labour.

    No borders!

  2. Minerva Strigiform said,

    “They have talked to me about their policies and I agree with a lot of what they have told me. There’s going to be more and more foreigners coming in and taking everything from us. It’s diabolical.”

    Sounds like Philomena Cunk that does.

  3. Minerva Strigiform said,

    The ‘social dumping’ rhetoric (just because we hate furrens doesn’t make us racist) is toxic. Unions should be demanding award wages for all, not blaming the victims of racism for ‘bringing it on themselves’. The ugly fact is that trade unions have been in the forefront of agitating for racist laws since their inception. Over a hundred years ago they were fighting to keep Jews out of the UK. The bosses divide the workers and union bosses – the careerist, class collaborationist scum – dance to their jig and doff their caps.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      The ugly fact is that trade unions have been in the forefront of agitating for racist laws since their inception.

      Over-simplifying much?

  4. Ian Taylor said,

    I agree with a great deal of JD’s analysis. That said, I don’t think that we can dismiss the idea that UKIP is, to some extent at least, a protest party. Recent research from Yougov found that although their support tends to lean to the right, they also attract some support from those who are ‘fairly left-wing’, and even some from the ‘far left’. Nor do I think we should assume that in a hypothetical general election in which UKIP had a genuine chance of winning, that people would necessarily vote in the same way as they might in a by-election that was never going to seriously change the arithmetic of Parliament.

    More importantly though, I think the time has come to separate out the two issues under discussion here. Although I’m of the opinion that we should stay in Europe, there IS a lot that’s wrong with the EU. Those who say we should leave the EU have a case – not a particularly strong one, but not necessarily an offensive one either. For that reason I’m not particularly unsettled by their stance.

    The turn that debates about immigration and asylum seekers have taken over the past 10-12 years is a different and far more disturbing matter. I’ve little doubt that it’s a contributor factor in the rise of people openly confessing to holding racist attitudes in recent years. According to survey research by British Social Attitudes, the year-on-year decline in racist attitudes from 1987 to 2001 has been reversed since 2002. The fact that this has occurred at the same time as the moral panic surrounding asylum seekers kicked off, is, in my view, not a coincidence. (Hostility to immigration in general became more prominent in the latter part of the last decade.) The lesson that ought to have been learned across Europe this last decade is that whenever mainstream politicians try to sound tough on asylum seekers and immigration, far from offering reassurance to voters it legitimises and facilitates people’s anxieties thereby fuelling racism. That is, in many ways, what is so disappointing and so worrying about the renewed ‘tough line’ that Labour is now trying to take on the issue. (Well actually they’ve been indulging in macho politics on this issue for several years now.) Of course, the press have got to answer for here as well, but that’s another story.

    As for UKIP though, I foresee a possible end. Assuming that the 2017 referendum on Europe goes ahead (which is, admittedly, by no means certain, may depend on the outcome of the next election, but Labour will find it hard to resist giving people ‘a choice’), the most likely result (again by no means certain) is that Britain opts to stay in. Where would UKIP go from there?

    Just a few thoughts.


    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      The turn that debates about immigration and asylum seekers have taken over the past 10-12 years is a different and far more disturbing matter.

      The moral panic over asylum seekers actually dates back to the mid-90s and the decline in racist attitudes in 1997-2001 can I think be ascribed largely to Tony Blair convincing the Great British Public that ‘something had been done’ and to the willingness of some segments of the mass media to toe that line (remember that the Daily Express was at this time briefly a left-ish or at New Labour supporting paper and that even the Sun was under David Yelland’s editorship somewhat less strident and racist than it was before or after).

  5. Moving To The Right In Politics Is A Bad Thing? Why’s That? | Stirring Trouble Internationally - Around the world said,

    […] The way to stop Ukip is NOT to ape their policies ( […]

  6. Re: A perfect chance to terminate the Tories – Dave B. | said,

    […] The way to stop Ukip is NOT to ape their policies […]

  7. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    We need to convince workers of an alternative set of ideas…..

    Is where you lost me.

    How on earth are ‘we’ (the 100 or whatever it is members of the AWL, the few thousand members of all the far left groups put together, even the 200,000 or so members of the Labour Party) to achieve this feat when we have no way to communicate with the real masses while the enemies propaganda bombards them from every side?

    The Left is dead – and indeed to adapt Rosa Luxemburg on the SPD a stinking corpse poisoning and corrupting everything around it – and yet we continue to talk as if this was the 1970s.

  8. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    And the new Guardian/ICM poll has UKIP down -2 points to 7% and the Tories and Lib Dems both up +2%.

    All indicating that the British public won’t actually vote for them (unless they happen to be elderly right wing xenophobes living in safe Tory seats in which case their vote for UKIP is sound and fury that signifies nothing – or its a EU parliamentary election where every EU haters vote gets magnified several times by low turnout).

  9. Two wrongs don’t make a right: UKIP, the Tories and the future for British politics | abdelxyz said,

    […] The way to stop Ukip is NOT to ape their policies ( […]

  10. FW: Simon Darby – Annette R.S. | said,

    […] The way to stop Ukip is NOT to ape their policies […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: