Saturday, 24 May 2014

UKIP - To the Barricades or the Boozer?

The local election results were declared yesterday with the media trumpeting a fanfare of stories about UKIP breaking through, parroting Nigel Farage's claims that UKIP are foxes in the "Westminster hen house" and that the main parties will need to adopt UKIP's agenda, especially on immigration, for any of them to have any chance of success next year in the General Election. Although no one has quite yet suggested UKIP will be swept to power itself, the prospect of "Kingmaker" Farage has emblazoned many a headline today. Additionally, there have been some pretty sycophantic interviews with Farage including such searching questions as "Is this a big breakthrough for UKIP?"; and "Have people voted for you because you say what ordinary people are thinking?"

 By contrast, although Labour won almost as many councillors as everyone else put together, reading some papers today, the impression given is that Ed Miliband is in crisis. And today the BBC even stooped to giving airtime to a complete lie that the Leader of the Opposition had pinched some Fanta from a Subway outlet (perhaps subliminally trying to link Ed to Fanta's dodgy origins as the soft drink of choice of Nazi Germany when the local Coca Cola franchise was isolated from its US parent at the outbreak of hostilities in 1941 - oh, as if they would be so subtle or well-informed!). At least they had to apologise afterwards.

UKIP's media people are pretty crap at their work, but it hardly matters when journalists seem more than a tad keen to do their job for them. In the case of print/online corporate media with its deregulatory agenda, this is no surprise, but with notionally impartial broadcast media (other than the notable exception of LBC) it falls into the category of a disgraceful breach of quality and possibly even regulatory standards. In fact, beyond someone in the newsroom telling them UKIP has done well, you seriously wonder if many of the TV interviewers actually took any time to check any facts before fawning over the beer-swilling former stockbroker. Little wonder that a twitter account parodying the BBC's Chief Political Correspondent Nick Robinson tweeted today;

But the whole narrative, the whole story, is fantasy. UKIP have done reasonably well - and certainly as a Green supporter, this blogger would have been delighted to see the Greens making the gains UKIP did (although, hidden away from the headlines, the Greens have actually polled very well indeed and more than doubled their councillors). But the rightwing, pro-business, anti-NHS Faragista party's showing is not exactly, to borrow an old phrase, "breaking the mould of British politics."

The facts are:
- UKIP won 162 seats out of 4,200 contested: 3.6% of the total
- UKIP polled an assessed national vote of 17%. That's up 13% on the last time the seats at stake were fought, but it is nearly 7% DOWN on their showing this time last year at the county council elections.
- Turnout was 36% across the country, meaning just 6.12% of the electorate chose UKIP
- UKIP polled extremely badly in London; their own spokesperson has bizarrely said this is because they struggle to win the support of educated people, something of an insult to his own supporters.

Who would have guessed Labour won the elections?
However reluctantly, no one would deny UKIP had a good night. But it was not the Spectacular! they were anticipating, nor the Breaking-News-Fest that the 24 Hour News media are portraying it as being. This isn't sour grapes - but rather a concern that by giving yet again a completely false impression of a groundswell for UKIP, a fiction will inform even further the panic among the three establishment parties, who will respond with ever more illiberal, rightwards shift in policy and action. Already senior Labour MPs are saying they must "talk more" about immigration, and Tories are even calling for a pact for the general election next year.

The truth is that UKIP have no functional party machinery across whole swathes of the country - in Kirklees they managed to put up in just 5 out of 23 wards (Greens and even the Lib Dems fought all of them) - and other than a big donation for the Euro-elections from a single donor, they are not flush for money. Their members tend to be semi-activists, reflecting the armchair location of many of them, and large quantities of their leaflets were delivered by commercial companies (including those with low wage, zero hours Eastern European staff).

Just as its arguments and policies depend on appeals to blind emotion rather than any informed facts, its organisation such as it is appears to be haphazard and chaotic. While the feelings of its voters obviously deserve to be taken note of and given the same weight as others, UKIP's showing should not be allowed to dictate the terms of political discourse - notwithstanding, of course, that more than a few in the three old parties in truth share much of UKIP's neoliberal worldview. Whatever happens, even if as is likely they perform better in the European results announced tomorrow, the polling of this revanchist, populist party should not be allowed to legitimise or necessitate an even further lurch rightwards in our politics.

So it's not a revolution - 6.12% is a theatre-outing rather than the People's Army march that Farage hubristically declared it to be. UKIP is lazy politics and the equally lazy (or biased, surely not?!) media would do well to take note. No one is going to the barricades when the leader is already down the pub.

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