Ukip is far from ‘defeated’, says Tina Becker - but that does not stop sections of the left talking nonsense
“Among a sombre set of results, it was wonderful see Nigel Farage of the racist Ukip party defeated. He failed because Stand Up to Ukip and others campaigned against him.”1 It certainly must be quite wonderful to be able to delude yourself to the same degree as Charlie Kimber, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party.
But wait, his SWP comrade, Jo Cardwell, convenor of the SWP’s Sutu front, actually manages to top him: “Today [May 8] is an enormous victory for everyone who stood up to Farage’s politics of scapegoating and division … Farage promised us that Ukip would create a political earthquake after the European elections. This has certainly not been the case, precisely because many working class people have seen through Ukip’s lies. We are proud that Stand Up to Ukip have been able to galvanise anti-Ukip support up and down the country.”2
Yes, anybody who did not wake up on May 8 celebrating an “enormous victory” clearly must have something wrong with them. I’ll have what she’s having.
Nigel Farage might have resigned for a split second as leader of Ukip after failing to win Thanet South (he got 16,026 votes compared to the Conservatives’ Craig Mackinlay with 18,838). But Ukip’s “defeat” saw its vote rocket to almost 3.9 million; from 3.1% in 2010 to 12.6% this time around. It came second in a staggering 118 constituencies.
True, in the European parliamentary elections of May 2014, the party polled just under 4.4 million votes, beating all the major parties. So maybe Stand Up to Ukip convinced those 450,000 people? That would be quite impressive. But not very likely. Ukip generally does much better in the European elections. In 2009, for example, almost 2.5 million people voted for it, but in the general elections a year later, this dropped to 919,000.
No, in reality it is chiefly the undemocratic British electoral system that stopped Ukip from playing a major role in parliament. The Electoral Reform Society has calculated that under a proportional voting system (in this case the D’Hondt method), Ukip would have won 83 seats. Other methods push this figure up to 99. The party required “more than 100 times as many votes for its lone elected MP than the Conservatives did for each of theirs”.3
Looking at some of the constituencies where Ukip came second, the London School of Economics writes that “‘hidden’ English nationalist non-voters came out for the Tories, while some English nationalist Ukip voters switched to Cameron - all in response to the SNP-Labour threat. In a different election such folk may have swelled the ranks of Ukip.”4 So the LSE seems to think it was Nicola Sturgeon, not Sutu, that did it.
And politically, of course, Ukip has been far from “defeated”. When it comes to neoliberalism, austerity, trade unions, workers’ rights - you name it - Ukip’s policies are pretty mainstream. As are the party’s anti-immigration sentiments, although Nigel Farage presents them more crassly than David Cameron and Ed Miliband do (mind you, the latter’s chiselled pledge for more “controls on immigration” onto his Moses tablet was pretty crass).
If everybody’s a racist …
The SWP singles out Ukip for being “racist”. This lazy claim might outrage its members enough to keep shouting abuse at Ukip supporters or organise protest stalls every Saturday, but it has little to do with the truth. In reality, Ukip’s policies are extremely chauvinistic and there are no doubt a fair number of crackpot racists within its ranks - but that does not make the organisation as a whole or its policies racist.
According to Ukip’s proposals for stricter border controls, for example, rich people would be very welcome to come and live in Britain - the colour of their skin does not matter, as long as they can afford to pay for private healthcare and send their children to a public school for the first five years. Similarly, David Cameron has just announced his plans to stop new migrants receiving benefits for four years. Those two are singing from the same hymn sheet.
Instead of shouting abuse, we should address the anti-migrant sentiment (what the SWP dubs “racism”) in the population - which is, of course, not just limited to Ukip supporters. If you count Tory voters and the large proportion of Labour supporters who agree with the demand for “more controls on immigration”, you are actually looking at the overwhelming majority in the population.
Chauvinism and anti-migrant sentiments are a seemingly logical reaction to the bad situation that many working class people find themselves in during a period of capitalism decline. A worker whose pay has been cut or who has just lost their job does not have to be racist to conclude that if there were fewer migrants the pressure on jobs and wages would be eased. The same goes for housing: you cannot find anywhere to live, yet London is being bought up by wealthy foreigners. This is not an irrational response - though it is, of course, politically and economically naive.
In other words, some of the responses to mass immigration - including voting Ukip - are a deflected form of the class struggle. This leads some comrades on the left - for example, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition - to the mistaken conclusion that we too should call for some (non-racist) border controls. After all, we don’t want to put off those working class people, do we? So let’s just pander to their existing consciousness. But they are wrong. The role of communists and revolutionary socialists is to advance tactics and strategies that will unite the working class, regardless of nationality or ethnicity. Our role is to help people understand how capitalism works, why and how it creates haves and have-nots.
To its credit, the SWP does occasionally call for open borders - at least when it is not pandering to the right wing (real or imagined) of any “united fronts” it is currently involved in. Sutu itself does not say anything on the subject of free movement or open borders. But by singling out Ukip as “the racists”, it lets the chauvinistic Tories and Labour off the hook and, worse, helps to sows illusions in them. In reality, Stand Up to Ukip has achieved precious little, apart from making us laugh out loud in disbelief when we read its statements.
Funnily enough, the only one of Ukip’s main policies that is not shared by the mainstream bourgeoisie is, unfortunately, whole-heartedly shared by the SWP and much of the rest of the organised left. Both organisations will fight for a ‘Brexit’ in the forthcoming referendum on the continued membership of Britain in the European Union.
In December 2014 Sally Campbell admitted in Socialist Review that, “In Britain the only loud voices against the EU project at the moment belong to racists and the right wing. If and when a referendum on Britain’s membership is announced the debates will be difficult and the left will have to think tactically about how to intervene.”5
It seems though that her SWP comrades have no need to “think tactically”, since they have been announcing for years, that “Socialist Worker is against the European Union and will argue to vote to leave it in any referendum”.6
Of course, there are instances where socialists might fight side by side with some rather distasteful contemporaries against the same enemy. But you really have to ask why the hard-core Tory right, the chauvinists of Ukip and Europhobic newspapers like The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail are campaigning for a Brexit.
‘The EU is a bosses’ club,’ SWP comrades argue. But they fail to explain how a Britain outside the EU would be anything but another ‘bosses’ club’ - but just much, much smaller. And without the troublesome legislation that is ‘holding back’ British businesses and things like the horrid European Court of Human Rights (where, for example, the ‘hooded men’ are currently taking their claim that they were tortured by the British government in Northern Ireland in the 1970s).
Communists have no illusions in the EU or its institutions. It is indeed a club run by and for the ruling class of Europe. But neither do we think that the working class would be better off if it were divided into ever smaller entities.
The left must break from national socialism - and the belief that what is bad for capitalism can only be good for us, and so the break-up of the EU must be desirable. This is a dangerous illusion. Capital exists on a global scale and can only be superseded at that level. The EU is the largest economic bloc on the planet and a revolution in Europe would probably see capitalism finished within a decade or less. To stand any chance of making a successful revolution, we need to constitute the working class as a conscious, independent class across Europe.
Concretely, we should not fall for either the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ choice in Cameron’s ‘simple’ in-out referendum, however he might phrase the question. We say no to the capitalist EU bureaucracy and to British nationalism. Our call is for European working class unity around a programme for extreme democracy, socialism and communism.