Friday, 3 May 2013

The Boston Tea Party - UKIP and the End of Britain

Erm....thanks, but no thanks?

The Boston Tea Party was in full swing earlier today. In the area of Lincolnshire covered by the orginal town of Boston, the rightwing, populist United Kingdom Independence Party took five of the seven wards up for election. It was part of a major breakthrough for the party, which took 16 seats in all on the local county council to become the official opposition. Tonight, the BBC estimates its national vote share at 23%, eclipsing the junior coalition partner the Lib Dems and snapping at the heels of the Conservatives on 25%.

So who are UKIP?

Established over 20 years ago by anti-European Thatcherites who wanted to leave the European Union, it has an essentially elitist/populist rightwing agenda - anti-Europe, anti-immigration and anti-"benefits scrounger". It opposes controls on the banks and backs massive tax cuts for millionaires. It  supports a so called flat tax of around 31% of income (this would also incorporate national insurance) - meaning tax rises for the majority of people and substantial cuts for the elite. In foreign policy, it wants the same relationship with the EU as Switzerland and Norway enjoy - associates rather than members, seeking the benefit of multinational companies to the detriment of ordinary employees in the name of so-called competitiveness.

UKIP is headed by Tories - its leader, Nigel Farage is a former stockbroker and son of a stockbroker, and a former Conservative Party activist. Most of its leadership hails from the Thatcherite wing of the Tories. It is backed financially by big business and some very wealthy people, whom it backs in return. But it plays on a classic divide and rule agenda - struggling to pay your mortgage? Well, that's because of Asians/fake disabled people/slothful benefits scroungers, etc. Nothing to do with corrupt bankers or millionaire tax dodgers. The majority of its voters are former Conservatives, but it has also tapped into disillusioned former Labour supporters, playing to an anti-migrant agenda - in Lincoln, for example, against the eastern Europeans who have moved there to work in the agricultural sector. It offers divisive but powerful explanations for society's problems, playing on the fears of the vulnerable and by doing so reinforcing the hold of the elite.

Farage likes to portray himself as a blokey man-of-the-people, pint and fag in hand, although the velveteen jacket lapels and checked bonnet can't quite hide his hankerings for country squire status. And behind him are some fairly unpleasant characters. Never mind that in the last European Parliament, several of his MEPs ended up in trouble for fiddling their expenses, with one actually jailed, while more recently the sole female MEP left because of alleged bullying - one of his colleagues, Godfrey Bloom, who sits for Yorkshire, openly backed the bombing of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior by the French secret services, apparently forgetting that a photographer was killed as a result.

UKIP candidates and elected representatives have called for a range of bizarre, antiquated practices, including not employing women of child-bearing age and taxing bicycles. Additionally and very oddly, they are committed to subsidising nuclear power to almost the equivalent of what they claim withdrawal from the EU would save the taxpayer. Like their Italian and American counterparts of Berlusconi's Forza Italia and Palin's Tea Party, they portray themselves as anti-establishment when in fact they are both of the establishment and keener than ever to reinforce its hold over ordinary people.

But of course people often don't vote for policies - they vote instead for the narrative: and UKIP's narrative is straightforward - vote for us for a return to a mythical 1950s of white guys in pinstripe suits and bowler hats smoking in the pub on the way home from the office, polite kids, women in the kitchen, gays in the closet and a grateful Empire. They are the "Madmen" of British politics - for as long as politics remain British.

For there is a further consequence - even if the Farage name has Gaelic rather than Saxon origins, UKIP is not British. It has little presence and even less interest in Scotland. For United Kingdom, read England .The party, for example, plays up the myth popularised by the right-wing media that Scots benefit financially from the English taxpayer. Lord Monckton, the party's deputy leader, recently depicted the Scots as dependent on "subsidies from Britain", ignoring the fact that Scotland actually contributes a larger per centage of public revenue to the UK Treasury that its population share merits - 9.4% of tax revenue from 8.4% of the population.

UKIP's rise mirrors the rise in English people identifying as English rather than British - in the 2011 national census, only 29% of the population of England viewed themselves in any way as "British", and 55% of UKIP supporters in one recent survey choose the option of "I am English, not British." or "More English than British." So the "UK" part of "UKIP" looks increasingly misleading, whatever Farage may claim to the contrary.

And so UKIP's successes today may further the view among a growing number of Scots that, faced with an increasingly neoliberal rightwing political consensus in England, it will bode well to leave an ever more fractious Union. This would free Scotland to preserve and develop a more egalitarian society independent of the somewhat harsher worldview that is emerging in English politics.

With UKIP working to repeat its showing in next year's European elections and Scotland voting in its independence referendum just a few weeks later, 2nd May 2013 could one day be looked back on not simply as the date of a surprising result in English local polls; it may also ultimately be seen as the day when the United Kingdom itself finally began to unravel.

And if you are reading this in Scotland, looking south at what is emerging between the rightwing Coalition Government, the continuation of neoliberal New Labour and the rise of the Faragists, why on earth not?

Back to the future or forward to the past - UKIP's ideal workplace?

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