UKIP: Part of mainstream chauvinist consensus
Getting jittery, the Tory machine and large sections of the media are attacking the ‘unBritish’ Ukip. Eddie Ford is not surprised
Nigel Farage must be treating himself to a few extra pints at his local, given that the tide seems to still be running in favour of the United Kingdom Independence Party. According to a YouGov poll conducted on April 25, Ukip is on course to come first in the European elections on May 22.1 It recorded 31% support, three points ahead of Labour, while the Conservatives are way behind on 19% and the Liberal Democrats are lagging further on 9%.
Another poll on personal ratings by The Observer/Opinium showed similar results. Farage came top with a net tally of 0% - ie, 34% approved of the Ukip leader’s performance whilst 34% disapproved. As for David Cameron, his rating has improved slightly from -11% to -8%, but Ed Miliband’s has fallen from -20% to -22% - and Nick Clegg is languishing on -42%: nobody likes him. Interestingly, a survey by Open Europe appears to confirm this swing towards Ukip and other Eurosceptic parties across the European Union.2 OE believes that anti-EU parties could win more than 30% of the vote across the continent - up from the 24.9% they recorded in 2009 - thereby possibly accounting for up to 218 of the 751 seats. Obviously, as OE points out, this ‘bloc’ is highly diffuse, ranging from “mainstream” governing parties to “neo-fascists” - whilst the share of parties identified as “critical reformers” (like the Tories) could fall from 53 to 39 seats. Meaning overall that if voter turnout is 43%, roughly the same as in 2009, then 74.4% will have voted against the EU, for radical change or just not bothered to vote at all.
Anyhow, whatever the exact results of the coming elections, rightwing populism is in the clear ascendancy. Even if Ukip does not come first, it will come a very good second - worrying the pro-establishment parties. This is certainly the fear, albeit from opposite ends of the telescope, of both Peter Hain and Lord Tebbit - the former Tory chairman affectionately known as the ‘Chingford skinhead’. He expected Ukip to “make history” on May 22 by becoming the first party other than Labour or the Conservatives to win a UK-wide election since World War 1. In his opinion, which has some merit, his party is still paying the price for Cameron’s famous remarks eight years ago on LBC radio about Ukip supporters being “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. For his part, Hain gloomily warned that the “political class” needs to “wake up” to the fact that Ukip is successfully capitalising on a very real “anti-politics” sentiment - though he did believe that Labour could still win, but that it would be “very hard”, requiring the party as a whole to get out there and motivate its voters.
Full of confidence, Farage now thinks that his party has firmly secured a large number of votes from former Conservative supporters in the south of the country and is now targeting Labour voters in the north - hoping to goad Miliband into promising an EU referendum. Farage also appeared to have another stroke of luck on April 29 with the resignation of the Tory MP for Newark, Patrick Mercer - who had taken thousands of pounds from a fake lobbying firm representing “Fijian business interests”, having boasted that he came “cheap” at £1,000 a day. Unsurprisingly, the Ukip leader seriously considered standing in the by-election - especially as it would strengthen his case to be included in the general election television debates if he was actually elected as a Westminster MP. In the end though, wisely or not, he decided that standing would act as a massive distraction from the far more important business of winning the European elections - especially as he has no connection with the area. Instead, he promised Ukip would “throw the kitchen sink” at the by-election and field a “strong” local candidate.
Ukip’s growing popularity helps to explain the current wave of attacks against the organisation, with the well- oiled Tory machine in particular - and large sections of the media - doing almost everything they can to discredit Farage’s merry band of Little England nationalists. Of course, the very nature of the organisation - the incarnation of crankiness - makes their job a hell of a lot easier.
Thus the recent headlines about Ukip’s racist candidates, the liberal press especially taking a delight in such stories. Firstly we had the now suspended and supposed ‘poster boy’, Andre Lampitt - the Zimbabwean-born builder and council candidate for Merton, south London, who appeared unnamed in a Ukip election broadcast and is now expected to be airbrushed out of any future showings. In a series of Tweets (his account appears to have been removed) he claimed that Ed Miliband was “not a real Brit”, but rather Polish,3 advised Africans to “kill themselves off”, stated that Islam is an “evil” religion, that Nigerians are “bad people” and that people who lived on benefits for over a year should be “excluded from society”, as “they’re just lazy” - and so boringly on.
There was an even bigger uproar over the remarks made about Lenny Henry by a contender for Enfield council, William Henwood - quite inevitably, given that the comedian is held in such high esteem by the establishment. Responding to a speech by Henry, in which he complained that ethnic minorities were underrepresented on British television, Henwood promptly Tweeted that he “should emigrate to a black country” - after all, he “does not have to live with whites” (let alone marry one, he could have added). Trying to defend himself, but only digging himself into a deeper hole, he innocently told the BBC that “if black people come to this country and don’t like mixing with white people why are they here?” Absolutely nothing offensive or bigoted about that.
Automatic and instant comdemnation rained down on the idiot from all quarters - Henwood, who subsequently resigned from Ukip, was beyond the pale. Perhaps the most forthright was Jeremy Hunt, the Tory health secretary. He stated that Henwood’s comments were “absolutely disgusting”, as Lenny Henry is “as British as you and I are”. Indeed, he went on, though Ukip positions itself as a patriotic party, there is something “very unBritish” about it - rather, he continued, we want to live in a country where “all parts” of the political spectrum “avoid that kind of rhetoric”. Backing up her former colleague, Louise Mensch, ex-Tory MP for Crosby, wrote in The Sun that “clown prince Nigel” was “to blame for Ukip falling on its face” - despite the polls saying otherwise (April 27).
We now have a cross-party campaign aiming to gun down the insurgent Ukip, led by the former Labour immigration minister, Barbara Roche. She wants Ukip “exposed” for what it is: a party guilty of practising a form of “Euracism” - she argues that the party is deploying the “same” language and tactics used by “openly racist” parties like the BNP, but targeting migrants from within the EU instead of Africans and Asians. The new anti-Ukip campaign is naturally supported by the all-party Migration Matters Trust - a body co-sponsored by the Conservative, Nadim Zahawi, and by the Liberal Democrat deputy leader in the Lords, Lord Dholakia.
Neil Hamilton, the Ukip deputy chairman and former Tory MP for Tatton who was downed by the first cash-for-questions scandal, stepped forward to respond to the avalanche of criticism - if not demonisation. He issued a statement about Henwood saying: “This is a council candidate whom you would never have heard but for all the social media archaeologists that are employed by Labour, the Liberal party and the Tories to try and track down any unknown Ukip member or activist who may have said something unpleasant on social media.” He also commented that Ukip attracts “decent” and “non-racist” former BNP voters who feel “swamped” by immigrants and thus had voted BNP in the past “out of desperation”. That is, most working class BNP voters are not driven by neo-Nazi or racist ideology - a silly and ultimately patronising idea, though popular amongst certain writers for The Guardian. Feeling alienated, they want to hit back at the governing parties for having abandoned them - and who can blame them?
Frankly, Hamilton has a point - the mainstream parties are out to strangle Ukip, by fair means or foul. Yes, the Tory right may be using Ukip to try and force the Conservative leadership to adopt an outright anti-EU stance, but that is obviously not in the interests of British big capital and therefore not what Cameron et al want to do. Of course, the Tories represent an alliance of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie - thus the leadership frequently appeals to petty bourgeois prejudices of all sorts, including over the EU; which is why Cameron is (eventually) going for a referendum. But the scathing Tory attacks on Ukip hint of desperation - and hypocrisy. In 1978, Margaret Thatcher herself talked about how the British people are “afraid” that the country might be “swamped by people with a different culture” - undercutting electoral support for the then resurgent National Front. What goes around comes around. The right is now in revolt.
These latest incidents also confirm once again the all-pervasive nature of official anti-racism - anathematisation awaits any individual or organisation that is even perceived to be racist. Whatever the Socialist Workers Party may insist, Ukip is not a racist organisation in terms of its formal programme (insofar as it has one) or the outlook of the leadership - even if a minority of its members, including council candidates, do have racist prejudices. Then again, you can say the same thing about the Tories - yet to accuse David ‘call me Dave’ Cameron a racist would be absurd. He fully subscribes, like the overwhelming majority of his colleagues on both sides of parliament, to the reconfigured post-World War II bourgeois ideology - and mythology - of the heroic British underdog fighting a noble, democratic crusade against the alien menace of fascism/Nazism under the brilliant leadership of that greatest ever Briton, Winston Churchill. Hence Hunt’s comments about the “unBritish” nature of the views expressed by William Henwood.
At the end of the day Ukip’s shrill, loud, anti-immigrant message does not fundamentally differ from the mainstream national chauvinist consensus, which combines bourgeois or institutional anti-racism with British nationalism. Ukip just has a more extreme or virulent petty bourgeois version, spiced through with a visceral hatred for the ‘politically correct’, same-sex marrying, metropolitan liberal elite and feckless ‘scroungers’ - whether they be migrants or not.
Equally, there is no reason to disbelieve Ukip when it says it is a “non-racist” party. Nigel Farage genuinely wants Britons, including previous immigrants and their descendants, to unite around the union jack against non-British outsiders - Poles, Romanians, Bulgarians, etc. One big happy family. Just like Gordon Brown, Farage wants British jobs for British workers, regardless of whether they are called Smith or Patel - and anyone who does not like that, such as Lampitt or Henwood, will get their marching orders.
And now we have the SWP’s ludicrous new front, called Stand Up to Ukip.4 Wretchedly, almost giving a bad name to popular frontism, we are informed that it wants “people of goodwill” to come together and say no to Ukip’s “racism” - “regardless of our differing views on Europe or other political issues”. Presumably that includes all those in the Tory Party “disgusted” by Ukip or those like No2EU who want Britain to withdraw from the EU into splendid isolation - just as Ukip does. Worried that Ukip’s “racist scapegoating” will have an “impact on mainstream politics” and create a “fertile breeding ground” for fascist organisations such as the English Defence League and the BNP (hovering as it is on 0% in the opinion polls), the SWP urges us to stand up for “our multicultural society”. Not a hint, needless to say, of any independent working class politics - just tailing the liberalistic, anti-racist/anti-fascist consensus.
Furthermore, we read in the SWP’s Party Notes that, although it does not call for the no-platforming of Ukip, as it is not a “fascist” organisation, the SWP does believe in “challenging racist politicians” and “protesting outside their meetings”, using the material produced by Stand up to Ukip. Therefore the SWP urges comrades everywhere to work with the “broadest possible range of people” to show “public opposition” against Ukip - “go into your town or city centre and leaflet and petition” (April 22). Don’t question, just do it.
In other words, a disastrous rerun of the ‘strategy’ peddled in the past by that other SWP front, Unite Against Fascism - which moralistically instructed workers, “Don’t vote Nazi!” Only this time with the word ‘Nazi’ crossed out and replaced with ‘Ukip’. Good thinking, comrades.
2. The Guardian April 28.
3. Actually, Ed Miliband was born in Camden - his mother was the daughter of relatively wealthy Jewish parents from Poland, whilst his father, Ralph, was born in Belgium to working class parents who had grown up in the impoverished Jewish quarter of Warsaw.