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The onward march of the populist right?
One of the most curious phenomena of the last decade has been the development of
a non-fascist rightwing populist vote outside the Conservative Party. The root
cause of this has been the divisions in the Tories over Europe, mirroring the
divisions in the British capitalist class as a whole about whether to throw its
lot in with the EU project.
The Tories settled on a kind of hostile engagement, but can give neither side of
the debate full expression without risking substantial defections, and this
paralysis has created a space to its right in which some rather unpleasant
organisms have begun to spawn. Discounting the short-lived Referendum Party,
UKIP was first to grasp the mantle, providing a home for the exiled
anti-European Tory right. In its wake now follow Veritas and the lesser-known
English Democrats Party.
A quick perusal of the websites of these three parties reveals common political
themes. They talk about defending the UK’s (or in the EDP’s case, England’s)
traditions, culture and identity. Immigration must be firmly controlled and the
borders protected, and migrants must integrate into the British “way of life”.
We must leave the EU in order to defend our freedom, independence and currency.
All the old parties have betrayed the British people but we are different, and
so on. Also revealed is that these parties are overwhelmingly run by groups of
white men (all of UKIP’s MEPs fit that description).
So what are the prospects of these parties in the coming election? Of the three,
UKIP is standing by far the most candidates – somewhere in the region of 500.
Following its breakthrough in the Euro elections last year, winning 11 MEPs, it
claims to have scored the highest vote in the equivalent of 21 parliamentary
constituencies. However, the chances of this (protest) vote translating to
General Election victories must be minimal. There is a delightful irony in the
fact that – because of the voting system – the only national elections in which
the Europhobes of UKIP are likely to win representation are those to the
European Parliament, and I’m sure they can barely bring themselves to cash their
expenses cheques after every session.
UKIP’s chances have not been helped by the defection of its most famous MEP
Robert Kilroy-Silk, former Labour MP, former TV star and legend in his own mind.
Kilroy-Silk’s recent history tells us all we need to know about his character.
Finding his employment with the BBC suddenly terminated after making racist
comments in a newspaper column, he decided to re-enter politics and stand for
UKIP in June 2004. Following his election as an MEP and having served at least
several months’ membership of UKIP, he not unreasonably demanded that its leader
step aside to make way for him to take over. Roger Knapman inexplicably refused
Kilroy-Silk then declared UKIP to be a hopeless case and went off to form his
own party, Veritas, “the straight talking party”. After lengthy consultation
with himself, Kilroy-Silk became leader of Veritas, and remains the only member
that anyone has ever heard of. However, it is fielding around 100 candidates in
May, enough to secure an election broadcast which I await with a growing sense
Notwithstanding this farcical history, Kilroy-Silk must surely be the only
candidate who stands a chance of replicating UKIP’s Euro success. Veritas and
UKIP will presumably be competing for the same vote in many areas, and with the
English Democrats’ thirty or so candidates thrown in there could even be some
three-way fights for the hard-right-but-not-quite-fascist mandate. I would
expect a reasonable number of saved deposits where one candidate manages to
hegemonise this vote.
I suppose the one positive side effect of the present configuration of rightwing
voting is that UKIP and Veritas will take enough votes from the Tories to damage
their chances of recovering, yet not win anywhere near enough votes themselves
to get elected (permatanned demagogue excepted?) and also seriously undermine
the BNP’s potential support.
However, we can hardly be at ease with a situation in which the populist right
is growing and even setting the agenda in some areas of policy. With the Greens
and Respect hopeful of causing a few upsets from the left, the rightwing vote
appears to be part of a polarisation in voting patterns caused by
disillusionment with the mainstream parties and a feeling of exclusion from
“official politics”. Whether the opportunities or the dangers of this situation
are accentuated by the General Election remains to be seen.