The Socialist Unity Network

Didn't they do well?

UKIP stunning election results

Andy Newman

With  12 MEPs elected the true winners of the Euro elections were certainly UKIP. Indeed it shows that you should be careful what you wish for - on Thursday 2.5 million voted for early British withdrawal from Europe, on Sunday night Zinadine Zidane slammed two goals past hapless keeper David James in the last 3 minutes to help England leave the European championship as soon as possible.

It is hard to imagine that Kilroy Silk and Galloway were both Labour MPs. It is a shame that their periods in Westminster didn't overlap as I am sure they would had much to say to each other over the Middle East, from adjoining sun-beds. But certainly Kilroy Silk has given  personality to the UKIP, up until now a rather anonymous political formation.

Most mainstream analysis of elections is completely facile, talking of swings between one party and another, whereas it is actually very difficult to analyse who voted and why. This is a shame as it  reduces the question of representative democracy down to a popularity contest of no more significance the Pop Idol. Whereas shifts in voting (and abstention) patterns do give us some information about underlying social attitudes, and class consciousness.

The emergence of a high profile right wing party capable of securing large votes, like the UKIP, cannot be explained simply by looking at its election campaign or the single issue of Europe. Nor were the UKIP the only right wing party contesting the Euro elections, we also saw campaigns by the English Democrats (EDP), the Countryside Party and of course the BNP.

Of these the BNP is the only clearly fascist party. I have been unable to find much out about the EDP, and there may be sinister forces behind it, but their web page suggests that they are of a similar mould to the UKIP. The Countryside Party, who are standing in the South West and the North West, are promoting a right wing agenda similar to the Countryside Alliance, but feeding on genuine grievances based upon the destruction of the rural economy and infrastructure by neo-liberalism.

So it seems that not only the Judeans but also the Romans are suffering from a "Life of Brian" splintering. Why is that - why don't they all back the Tories?

PARTY +/- % % +/-* TOTAL  

After 11 of 12 regions

It is often commented upon that in Northern Ireland there are two parallel elections, one between the SDLP and Sinn Fein, and one between the different shades of unionism. In a similar way there have been two Euro elections, one competing for the anti-war vote; RESPECT, Greens, Lib Dems, Forward Wales, Alliance for Green Socialism; and a parallel election over immigration and the EU (Tories, BNP, UKIP, Countryside Party).

The fact is that the Tory/Labour bi-partisan system derived from the post 1945 consensus no longer fits the reality of modern British society as well as it did. However the first-past the-post electoral system exaggerates the support and importance of these two parties, and also introduces a structural inertia to the parties themselves, both organisationally and in terms of policy development.

First past the post elections favour two parties. It is natural that as the great divide in our society is that of class then one party should openly support capitalism and imperialism and the other should be based upon the working class (unfortunately in Britain that party also openly supports capitalism and imperialism).

So the Tory party inherited the mantle after WW2 as being the unified imperialist party in Britain, with the Liberals marginalised to the South West and Celtic fringe. However there have been enormous changes in British capitalism and society since then that they have struggled to keep up with.

The Tory membership and core support is elderly, and hasn't come to terms with the loss of Empire. So it is an idiosyncratically nostalgic form of British nationalism. They are royalist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic and sexist and everyone knows it - but because that particular cocktail is electorally too narrow they stand electorally to the left of their membership. Particularly as the serious business backers of the Tory party do not feel that a Tory victory is worth paying a price of increased social tension. They certainly want to keep the hostility to the EU within acceptable limits, as a single unified European market is vital to their prosperity.

This creates a tension that is being resolved in two directions. On the one hand it is giving the space for the Lib Dems to position themselves as a modern style Tory party like Germany's Christian Democrats. However, the Lib Dems have also decided to strategically identify themselves whole-heartedly for closer European integration, which is an obstacle to them overtaking the Tories.  A degree to which this is a huge problem for them is shown by the South West, the historical regional stronghold for the Lib Dems, but where Euro-scepticism runs very high.

On the other hand it means that the deeply reactionary side of the Tory party is less expressed at election times than their membership would like. This is what gives space to the UKIP. It seems interesting that the UKIP gets high votes in Euro elections, but much lower votes at other times - which supports the idea that many of its voters return to the Tories in elections that really matter. Of course UKIP also received a share of working-class protest votes that might traditionally have gone to Labour.

In terms of content the UKIP express a raft of right wing prejudices hastily strapped onto their one big idea of withdrawal from the EU. So why is this so seemingly popular?

Given Britain's dependence on global trade and the fact that British companies have a larger proportion of overseas investment than European competitors then there is less support for European integration by British bosses then from their continental partners in crime. Furthermore, ever since WW2, and unquestionably so since Suez, there has been an Atlantacist bias for British foreign policy. It is not surprising that the two most important opponents of the EU in the UK are Conrad Black (a Canadian with British citizenship) and Rupert Murdoch (an Australian with US citizenship). The unrelenting hostility to the EU by the right wing press is merely taken to its logical conclusion by UKIP.

So are the UKIP significantly different from the Tories? Well they are more right wing, but to a certain extent this is because they are untrammelled by the responsibilities of office. Their business backing is slight, and peripheral to the mainstream interests of British capitalism. They would rather speak their mind than get elected - of course in the Euro-elections they can do both.

It is hard to imagine that the factors that propel UKIP into success in the Euro elections can be replicated in a significant scale for Westminster, where the stakes are high. Full scale British withdrawal from Europe is opposed by all of big-business, the civil service, the defence industry, and the Whitehouse! If they ever looked likely to form a government then the whole house of cards would fall down. It is noteworthy that UKIP have only a very few local councillors elected, no more than the far left, this reflects the fact that for important elections their core vote returns to the Tory fold, and also that in reality they have no party organisation on the ground.

So the big danger with the UKIP is that they pull the political agenda to the right, but to be honest a bigger problem is the hysteria about Asylum seekers from Blunkett, the Daily Express and the BNP. Electorally, the UKIP have been an obstacle to fascists getting elected.

So what can we say about their election campaign - well, it shows that 2 million helps! Their posters were everywhere. It also shows the advantage of a distinct USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Alone the UKIP has associated itself with full British withdrawal from the EU, whereas RESPECT was fighting a crowded field to be the anti-war party, and it only managed to pull clear of the pack in London.

I think that despite their relative success in these elections the UKIP will make minimal impact on British politics in the long term, even with Kilroy Silk as a media friendly MEP. However, I am sometimes proven wrong.



June 2004

The true face of a party which wants us out of Europe
From the Independent

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