The rise of the UK Independence Party, which won 25% of the vote in recent council elections, has created a lot of noise in the media and much heart-searching among the ‘established’ parties. The Ukip agenda – economically, a rather confusing mixture of greater spending on defence, health and education, while also cutting taxes, but, above all: stopping the ‘flood’ of immigrants and getting out of Europe – is making the other parties, especially the Tories, look over their shoulders and ask: do we need more right wing populism to win back those who are currently voting Ukip?
Ukip’s recent success has been based to a large extent on the careful cultivation of an advertising image - and the media have contributed quite a bit to this in the way they portray Ukip leader Farage and his party. “They’re just three different coloured rosettes”, says Farage, “but they’re all the same party”. Ukip, we are told, is outside this stale establishment, it’s a party of protest. Sober politicians and Guardian editors have even warned that it’s the expression of a dangerous ‘anti-political’ mood in this country. Farage himself is described as being unlike the clones at the head of the three main parties. He’s a good bloke who likes his ale and a good laugh down the pub.
The idea that a party which stands for the ‘independence of Britain’ is outside the political status quo is patently ridiculous. The one thing all factions of capitalism, from right to left, are agreed on, is that our number one loyalty is to the country, the nation, the fatherland; that this fabulous entity, the nation, created by the needs of capitalism to compete on a world scale, needs to be worked for and sacrificed for with our sweat and if necessary our blood. Farage’s Britain is perhaps a bit more fabulous than most: in essence, it’s a return to the Britain of Agatha Christie and the Famous Five. But measured against humanity’s need to consign the nation state to the dustbin of history, it’s no more or less reactionary than, for example, the Labour/Danny Boyle/SWP myth of a socialist Britain consecrated by the foundation of the NHS and the nationalisation of the railways.
Behind the mythology
Mythology, however, doesn’t arise from nowhere: it is always a distorted product of real tendencies. What are the main realities behind the Ukip phenomenon?
Ukip is, more than most parties in Britain, a product of a process of disintegration which is tearing at the present social order. The world economic crisis, which has been accelerating for decades, reached a new level with the so-called ‘credit crunch’ in 2007, and the EU has been at the very centre of the convulsions that have followed in its wake. The open bankruptcy not only of private financial institutions, but of entire countries like Greece and Spain, has put the very survival of the EU into question. It’s true that the demand for German capital to bail out the increasing number of ‘sick men of Europe’ has given a new impetus towards a more centralised, federal Europe, capable of imposing austerity and financial rigour on its member states. But the recognition that this essentially means a German-dominated Europe can only increase the counter-tendencies towards each nation going it alone, towards an open rupture with the EU, the euro, and the whole European project.
The impossible contradictions of the capitalist economy, and the break-up of the global institutions created by the ruling class to manage the crisis, have their parallel in the increasing fragmentation of the political life of the ruling class: a growing difficulty to administer the political machinery in a coherent manner, to keep the most ‘rational’ parties in charge, to agree on the best policies for the national capital. The proliferation of right-wing populist parties in every country in Europe, from the Front National in France to Geert Wilder’s Dutch Party for Freedom and the Golden Dawn in Greece, is a very evident sign of the way that the decomposition of capitalism is expressing itself at the political level.
Looking for scapegoats
Nearly all these populist parties have a noticeable common characteristic: the search for a scapegoat. During the economic depression of the 1930s, the principal scapegoat was the Jews, who were blamed both for the iniquities of finance capital and the threat of communism. Scapegoating is an organic product of a social relationship in which the exploitation of man by man is hidden by the play of market forces. Faced with the consequences of the capitalist crisis, such as unemployment and debt, it is far easier to blame an identifiable, personal enemy than to see the problem lying in impersonal economic powers. So today the problem is personalised, on the one hand, in the shape of the bankers (who can still rather easily be identified with the Jews), and on the other, in the shape of the immigrants, the ‘flood’ of Muslims, eastern Europeans, Africans or others, who are ‘taking our jobs’ and ‘sponging off our welfare benefits', not to mention staining our way of life with drugs, crime and terrorism.
But the vast majority of immigrants and emigrants are those who are driven from one country to another by economic crisis, ecological disaster, and war – and thus by the same impersonal forces which decimate industries in industrialised countries, which lie behind the mountain of debt pressing down on the world economy, which compel the managers of the system – the politicians and bureaucrats –to cut jobs and welfare spending. Blaming the immigrants for these attacks is not only a failure to understand reality. It creates a poisonous division among all those who are exploited by the system and who need to unite against it – not on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, or religion, but on the basis of class.
It is no accident that the question of immigration – the race question, when it comes down to it – is so central to the Ukip platform. This is the reason they have to have special rules barring former members of the BNP and other openly racist parties from joining them, although judging from some recent scandals, a good few very dubious elements seem to have got through the net. Their ‘respectable’ brand of racism is still attractive to those who see it as a step towards more radical and violent forms of the ‘race war’. But let’s not focus too much on Ukip’s anti-immigration stance. All the other parties share the same basic position: Britain is a fortress and must be protected from the intruders. Hence the harsh new measures against illegal immigrants announced in the Queen’s speech. Ukip is just another rosette of the same party of capital.